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Government mulls penalties for cyber bullies

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Mahesh Sharma

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Several interested parties say they prefer civil penalties rather than criminal convictions for cyber bullies.

Several interested parties say they prefer civil penalties rather than criminal convictions for cyber bullies. Photo: Janie Barrett

Having allocated $10 million to establish an office to protect children online, the federal government's attention now turns to legislation empowering its e-safety cop to penalise cyber bullies.

 This week the Abbott government allocated $7.5 million in its first budget to improve schools' access to online safety programs. The funding is new, separate to existing programs such as NetAlert and CyberSmart, administered by the Department of Communications and the Australian Communication and Media Authority.

The government also earmarked $2.4 million to establish the Office of the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner,  and $100,000 to support Australian-based research and information campaigns on information safety.

While the funding has been allocated, legislation to establish the office will be needed. It will also need to implement an effective regime for cyber bullying victims to file complaints against attackers, as well as details to impose criminal or civil penalties against offenders.

The department is considering public submissions to a discussion paper on the issue. Paul Fletcher, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Communications, has previously indicated that a final version of the legislation would be put before Parliament by the end of the year.

On Wednesday Mr Fletcher's spokesman declined to comment on the make-up of the office or what the final legislation might look like.

In a recent speech to the Youth, Technology and Virtual Communities Conference, Mr Fletcher said several parties, including the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, the Australian Federal Police, and the Law Council of Australia, preferred civil penalties rather than criminal convictions for cyber bullies.

They suggested raising awareness about the existing criminal tools available to law enforcement, including section 474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, which deals with "using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence".

"Quite a number of submissions ... supported the creation of a civil penalty regime," Mr Fletcher told the conference. "This was seen as a more flexible and informal mechanism than the existing law in the area – and something that might allow a more timely response.

"On the other hand, there was less support for introducing additional criminal law provisions dealing with cyberbullying. Several submissions pointed out that there are already criminal law provisions which would address such conduct."

However, not all stakeholders are on board. Internet companies, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, used their submissions to reject the proposal. They said it would be too cumbersome to remove content deemed harmful to young people.

When the proposal was flagged last September, leading up to the election, the Coalition raised the possibility that offenders would be fined, or even sent to jail for three months.

Based on the model adopted in New Zealand, it suggested the legislation should have a broad range of sentencing options for minors, including counselling, restorative justice, and community service.

0 comment

  • This is a stupid move. All on-line media has the facility to block offensive messages. If somebody receives abuse from a person, all he has to do is block that person from that media and that's the end of it.

    I have filters on my email that not only disposes of spam immediately, but blocks a number of people whom I don't like. I have no idea if they have send me emails after I had blocked them because nothing from them has landed in my inbox since I put those filters on.

    The same goes for Facebook, Twitter, Skype and all the rest of them. Nobody has to suffer cyberbullying or abuse because it can be stopped instantly by blocking the abusers.

    But it annoys me that people bleat about this and do not take the obvious actions that can stop it on the spot.

    Charlotte Dawson was the classic example, where she was abused by trolls on Twitter, yet engaged with them, answered them, commented about them and allowed the dialogue to continue. If she had merely blocked those Twitter trolls instead of fooling with them, she might still be alive today.

    We all have personal responsibility to deal with this and it's easy to do. We do not need cyberbullying laws when cyberbullies can be blocked with the click of a mouse button or finger.

    Commenter
    Ziggy
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 17, 2014, 12:25PM
    Comments are now closed
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