The Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA) was passed in 2015. It was introduced to deter, prevent and lessen the impact of harmful digital communications including online bullying, harassment, abuse and revenge porn. Here are some important things to know about the HDCA.

How can the HDCA help me?
The Act provides quick and affordable ways to get help if you’re receiving serious or repeated harmful digital communications.

What types of comments and posts will be considered harmful?
A communication must cause harm (the Act defines as “serious emotional distress”) and breach at least one of the 10 communications principles. It covers content posted online including through emails, texts, websites, apps or social media.

What are the 10 communication principles?
The HDCA lays out 10 communication principles that act like a guide for how people should communicate online. It covers any harmful digital communications which can include racist, sexist and religiously intolerant comments, plus those about disabilities or sexual orientation

A digital communication should not:

  1. disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual
  2. be threatening, intimidating, or menacing
  3. be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual
  4. be indecent or obscene
  5. be used to harass an individual
  6. make a false allegation
  7. contain a matter that is published in breach of confidence
  8. incite or encourage anyone to send a message to an individual for the purpose of causing harm to the individual
  9. incite or encourage an individual to commit suicide
  10. denigrate an individual by reason of colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability

Who responds to the reports of harmful digital communications?

Netsafe has been appointed to resolve complaints related to harmful digital communications.  Netsafe is not an enforcement agency, but does have a high success rate in helping people experiencing harm as a result of a digital communication.

How can Netsafe help?

Netsafe will:

  • investigate reports where harm has been caused
  • advise people on steps they can take to resolve a problem
  • liaise with website hosts, ISPs and other internet intermediaries (both here and overseas) and request them to takedown or moderate posts that are clearly offensive
  • use advise, negotiation, mediation and persuasion (as appropriate) to resolve complaints
  • inform people about their options if they wish to apply to the District Court
  • provide online safety education

If Netsafe can’t resolve things, then the person who reported the HDC can apply to the District Court for help – but you have to have tried to resolve things with Netsafe first.

What can the District Court do?

The District Court deals with cases of serious or repeated harmful digital communications that Netsafe hasn’t been able to resolve. The court will look into whether the person harassing someone has seriously breached, will seriously breach or has repeatedly breached one or more of the 10 communication principles.  It will also consider how you responded to the advice Netsafe provided

The court has the power to order people to stop their harmful digital communications and act including ordering:

  • material to be taken down
  • cease and desist orders
  • someone to publish a correction, an apology or give you a right of reply
  • the release the identity of the person behind an anonymous communication
  • name suppression

Anyone who ignores the District Court’s orders can be prosecuted and penalised. The penalty is up to six months in prison or a fine up to $5,000. Companies can be fined up to $20, 000.

What are the criminal penalties under the HDCA?

The criminal penalties under the HDC Act include:

  • A fine of up to $50,000 for an individual or up to $200,000 for a body corporate, or up to two years jail for posting or sending a digital communication with intent to cause harm
  • Up to three years’ jail for the new crime of incitement to suicide where no attempt at suicide is made

HOW TO GET HELP

Fill out an online contact form, email help@netsafe.org.nz, text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282 or call us toll-free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723).

Our contact centre is open 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday, and 9am – 5pm on weekends.

If you’re concerned about the immediate safety of you or someone else, call 111.