Harmful digital communications
You (or someone on your behalf) have the right to complain about harmful or illegal content. Complain to the online content host of a website, blog, social media site, or to the phone company.
It is now illegal under the Harmful Digital Communications Act (external link) to:
- send messages or post material (pictures, photos, videos) online that are intended to cause harm, and does in fact do so (includes cyberbullying)
- incite others online to commit suicide (even when the person doesn’t in fact do so).
Digital communication is defined widely to include any form of electronic message such as texts, photos, pictures, recordings etc.
The test for determining what is a harmful digital communication is whether the communication was designed to cause serious emotional distress. This can be very wide in its scope.
There are 10 communication principles (external link) to guide you on how to communicate responsibly online. This includes the principle that sensitive personal information should not be disclosed online.
Save any emails or text messages, so you have evidence and can report the cyber bully – but don't reply!
Removal of content
A new complaints process has been set up under the Act, so you can easily and quickly ask for the removal of harmful and illegal content posted by others.
If this process is followed, then online hosts are no longer legally responsible for the content that someone else has posted on their site (otherwise they may also be criminally liable).
Internet service providers or social media companies such as Facebook and Google could be asked by a New Zealand complaints agency to remove a harmful communication. The agency has not yet been set up to deal with complaints but should be established by mid-2017.
See the Ministry of Justice website for more information about the Safe harbour (external link) complaints process.
The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act (external link) protects you from spam. When businesses send you commercial electronic messages, they must:
- have your consent (express or implied)
- include accurate information about the sender and their contact details
- allow you to unsubscribe.
The Act also restricts the use of address-harvesting software, so it isn’t used to create address lists for sending spam.
Unless you consent either expressly or this is implied, businesses are not allowed to send you electronic commercial messages. You can expressly consent in person, by phone or by ticking a box on a website or on paper.
Implied consent is when it is clear that there is a reasonable expectation that messages will be sent. For example, you gave a business your email address when you purchased products or services in the general expectation that there will be follow-up communication.
But just because you are on an existing address list and have not ‘unsubscribed’, this does not mean that consent can be implied. The business should still check this with you directly.
Passing on email addresses, without your permission, to another organisation or business may also breach the Privacy Act. In particular, the Act’s principle three is about the collection of personal information from individuals. It requires a business to tell individuals the purpose for collecting the information, and who’s intended to receive the information, among other things.
Visit the Privacy Commissioner’s Privacy principles (external link) page to find out more.