Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A committee of fuckwits

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back on the Harmful Digital Communications Bill. The bill attempts to outlaw "harmful digital communications" - defined as anything causing "serious emotional distress" - and imposes a regime of court orders, takedown notices, and criminal penalties. The latter would effectively reintroduce the offence of criminal libel - but only on the internet. The committee has tinkered around the edges, and made some real (but insufficient) improvements to the takedown regime, but at the same time have left the core provisions unchanged, and in some cases - adding "threatened" breaches of communications principles, and increasing criminal penalties for harmful communications - have actually made things far worse. Effectively, they've defined harassment down from a repeated pattern of behaviour to a single upsetting incident - but only if it happens online, of course. They also want to impose far greater penalties for offensive behaviour on the internet than you would face for exactly the same actions on the street.

Don't believe me? Consider this statement:

The Justice and Electoral Committee are fuckwits
If I say that to their faces, in a select committee hearing, say, I am likely to be charged, at worst, with offensive behaviour and would face a fine of $500. However, I've said it online, in a deliberate attempt to upset them. Which puts me on the hook for two year's imprisonment if this atrocity passes.

Two years, vs $500 - because its on the internet and the sad old fuckwits in Parliament are scared of us and scared of our future.

(Oh, and thanks to sloppy drafting I can now be dragged off to the Orwellian "Approved Agency" and thence to court if I merely threaten to call someone a fuckwit. Again, they're fuckwits).

It gets worse, because its not only outright insults which are covered. As TechLiberty has pointed out, the law covers publicising evidence of outright corruption by MPs - something which undoubtedly causes "serious emotional harm" to the exposed MP. There's no public interest defence, and there's not even a freedom of expression clause for the avoidance of doubt - unlike the non-criminal sections.

This bill is simply one long exercise in fuckwittery, which will chill our online conversation - which, given that that's where our conversation happens now, imperils our democracy. It cannot be allowed to pass.