Report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety

Report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety

Harmful Communications Digital Safety

The Law Reform Commission recently published a report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety addressing some of the negative aspects resulting from the development in telecoms and digital media. The report has identified that the existing criminal law already addresses some of the harmful communications described. However, it also identified some gaps that require reform, notably where new forms of communication have been used in harmful ways that could not have been anticipated previously.

The report makes a number of recommendations relating to revenge porn, cyber stalking, the right to privacy and calls for the the appointment of a digital safety commissioner.

Consultation Process

Young people aged between 13 and 17 years formed part of the consultation process. The commission organised two workshops facilitated by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The workshops identified the need for an efficient and effective take down procedure to deal with harmful digital communications, and on the need for good digital citizenship.

Report Recommendations

The report includes 32 recommendations and a draft Harmful Communications and Digital Safety Bill. Among the recommendations is a three level hierarchy of responses to target harmful digital communications:

  • Education: to create user empowerment and foster safe and positive digital citizenship;
  • Civil law and regulatory oversight: where education and related responses are ineffective and the law needs to be employed, civil law should be favoured as it is less onerous than the criminal law;
  • Criminal law: only the most serious harm should be subject to the criminal law. 

Criminal Law Reforms

The report recommends the enactment of two criminal offences to address posting intimate images online without consent. This new recommendation would address incidents of revenge porn,  “upskirting” or “down-blousing”.

Further to this, the Commission recommends that the harassment offence ( part of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997) should be amended to include a specific reference to harassment of or about a person by online or digital means. This should deal with indirect forms of communication including setting up of fake social media profiles. The report also recommends  that there should be a separate offence of stalking.

Other Key Recommendations

  • The Commission recommends that no prosecution for the harmful communications offences discussed in the Report should be brought against persons under the age of 17 years except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
  • The Commission recommends that in any prosecution for a harmful communications offence provided for in the Report, the privacy of the person to whom the offence relates should be protected.
  • The Commission recommends that the Office of a Digital Safety Commissioner of Ireland should be established on a statutory basis to promote digital and online safety and to oversee and regulate a system of “take down” orders for harmful digital communications.

The full report can be viewed here.

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