Legislation

New Zealand has a range of legislation addressing serious offences committed with, or through, digital technology. The information provided below describes types of online offences and relevant legislation. There is also specific information about the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 and the Privacy Act.

Most legal issues that schools will manage are governed by the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 (the HDC Act) and the Privacy Act.

The section below lists both civil and criminal laws. Some law such as the HDC Act includes both civil and criminal options. The NZ Police manage criminal investigations and prosecutions whilst cases that fall under the civil regime are referred to Netsafe in the first instance.

There are often multiple possible offences depending on the severity and specifics of each incident. We recommend that schools discuss incidents in confidence with the Netsafe team who can review and explain possible courses of action. This information is provided as a guide and does not constitute specific legal advice.

HDC Act

HDC Act

The Act helps to address some of the ways people use technology to harm others.

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Privacy Act

Privacy Act

Privacy in New Zealand is defined by the 12 privacy principles that are found in the Privacy Act.

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Harassing behaviour

Harassment involves repeated actions. These involve contacting another person with the intent of causing them to fear for their safety or the safety of their family. An example is creating a social media account under a pseudonym that is used to post personal information about another person such as posting photos of where they live.

Relevant legislation:
HDC Act Civil (Communication principle 5: A digital communication should not be used to harass an individual.)
Harassment Act : Section 8 Criminal harassment

Intimidation and threatening behaviours

This includes threatening to, kill or do grievous bodily harm, destroy property or to cause harm to people or property. Examples are, comments on social media sites that include a threat to life or destruction of property. If threatening behaviour is implicated in an incident, it should be reported to the police.

Other actions include intending to frighten or intimidate another person. Examples are private messages sent via a mobile application that include threats to injure a person or any member of his or her family, or to damage any of that person’s property.

Relevant legislation:
HDC Act Civil (Communications Principle 2: A digital communication should not be threatening, intimidating, or menacing.)
HDC Act Criminal: Section 22 Causing harm by posting digital communications
Crimes Act: Section 179 Aiding and abetting suicide
Crimes Act : Section 306 Threatening to kill or do grievous bodily harm
Section 307 Threatening to destroy property

Aiding and abetting suicide

This involves inciting or counselling someone to commit or attempt to commit suicide. An example is an internet ‘troll’ repeatedly goading someone to kill him or herself.

Relevant legislation:
HDC Act Civil (Communication principle 9: A digital communication should not incite or encourage a person to commit suicide.)
Crimes Act: Section 179 Aiding and abetting suicide

Intimate photos or videos

Making, possessing or sharing nude or sexually explicit photos or videos of a person without that person’s knowledge or consent. Examples include taking an ‘upskirt’ photo under a toilet door, or sharing semi-nude or nude images of an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend to embarrass them.

Relevant legislation:
HDC Act Civil (Communication principle 1: A digital communication should not disclose sensitive personal facts about a person)
HDC Act Criminal: Section 22 Causing harm by posting digital communications
Crimes Act 1961, Section 216H, 216I, 216J.

Online grooming

This relates to an adult using the internet to manipulate and gain trust of a minor as a first step towards the future sexual abuse, production of objectionable material, or exposure of that to a minor.

Relevant legislation:
Crimes Act 1961, Section 131B & 98AA.
Crimes Act: Section124A Indecent communication with young person under 16

Unauthorised access to an online account

This relates to anyone gaining access to a social media account without the authorisation of its owner. For example, taking over a school’s social media account, changing the passwords to prevent access and then using it to harass members of staff.

Relevant legislation:
Crimes Act 1961, Section 249 & 252

Objectionable material

Any digital content or communication is objectionable if it “describes, depicts or expresses, or otherwise deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good.” All objectionable material is banned. A person could have committed an offence if, for example, they collect or view online images of sexual conduct involving children.

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) investigates and sometimes prosecutes people who deliberately collect objectionable material and find ways to distribute it to other people via the internet. Occasionally, the nature of the internet can lead to somebody viewing objectionable material by accident. This is one reason why searching a device or requesting digital content to be forwarded to a teacher or authorised staff member is not advisable.

Relevant legislation:
Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, Section 123 & 131

Restricted material

Restricted material is made available to people who are over a certain age using a rating system, such as that used in New Zealand for movies; G, PG, M, R16 and R18. A person could have committed an offence if, for example, they were an adult sending sexually explicit text or images to a person under 18.

Relevant legislation:
Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, Crimes Act 1961

Blackmail

This involves threatening, expressly or by implication, to make any accusation against any person to disclose something about any person or to cause serious damage to property or endanger the safety of any person with intent. An example would be a person threatening to publish an intimate recording unless more recordings or money were forthcoming.

Relevant legislation:
Crimes Act 1961, Section 237

Scam or fraud

This relates to using the internet to either obtain money or to cause loss by deception. An example is accessing a computer system for dishonest purposes, or conspiring to bring false accusation, or forgery.

Relevant legislation:
Crimes Act 1961, Section 115, 228, 240, 249 & 256

 

Defamation

This means damaging the good reputation of someone by making slanderous or libellous statements.

Relevant legislation:
Defamation Act 1992.

 

Discrimination

Discrimination occurs where a distinction is drawn between people on the basis of a personal characteristic, and that distinction leads to actual or assumed disadvantage.

Relevant legislation:
HDC Act Civil (Communication principle 10: Denigrate a person’s colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.)
Human Rights Act: Unlawful Discrimination

Breach of Privacy

Breach of Privacy
The Privacy Act 1993 controls how personal information is collected, used, disclosed, stored and accessed.

Relevant legislation:
Privacy Act 1993, Part 8
HDC Act Civil communication principle 1: A digital communication should not disclose sensitive personal facts about a person
HDC Act Criminal Section 22