Got any views on cyberbullying laws? Now is the time to speak

Law Reform Commission publishes paper on ways to tackle threats to online privacy

 “The online world leaves individuals vulnerable to serious privacy violations through the posting of private, false, humiliating, shameful or otherwise harmful content,” the report says.

“The online world leaves individuals vulnerable to serious privacy violations through the posting of private, false, humiliating, shameful or otherwise harmful content,” the report says.

 

The public has been invited to make submissions on a new Law Reform Commission paper which considers whether the law should be changed to reflect the specific challenges cyberbullying poses.

The issues paper published today says the internet and other digital communications technologies have created new and potentially insidious ways in which individual privacy can be compromised.

“The online world leaves individuals vulnerable to serious privacy violations through the posting of private, false, humiliating, shameful or otherwise harmful content, notably through social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, without the consent of the subject.” it says.

“The harm that is caused by such violations of privacy can be significant because content that is posted online can be spread instantly and widely.”

Effective

It says the views of the widest number of people (such as IT professionals, lawyers, psychologists, teachers and parents) as well as ordinary users are needed to ensure that laws are appropriate and effective.

The paper poses five questions about the potential for amending existing legislation or creating new laws around online violations of privacy.

It asks whether the offence of harassment created by section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 should include a specific reference to cyber harassment. It notes this law makes criminal certain interferences with privacy where behaviour is “persistent” or continuous.

But the paper says a difficult problem is that the section may not apply to certain forms of indirect cyber harassment, such as setting up fake profiles, or where the harmful behaviour is directed towards a person other than the victim, but harms the victim.

Submissions are also sought on whether there should be a new offence that would criminalise once-off serious interferences with another person’s privacy using technology.

Criminal damage

The paper considers to what extent existing offences capture once-off activity and notes a recent case in which a man was fined €2,000 for posting an offensive “status update” on his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page.

The document poses the question of whether current law adequately addresses online hate crime. It also raises the question of whether penalties for offences for cyber harassment and related behaviour are appropriate. Finally, the paper asks whether existing civil law remedies are adequate to protect against cyber harassment and to safeguard the right to privacy.

A report by the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communication published in July 2013 stated there was no need for separate legislation to deal with online bullying.

The current project forms part of the Law Reform Commission’s Fourth Programme of Law Reform approved by the Government in October 2013. The paper is available at lawreform.ie

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