GPD has responded to a call for public submissions by the Governance and Administration Committee of the New Zealand Parliament on the Films, Videos and Publications Classification (Urgent Interim Classification of Publications and Prevention of Online Harm) Amendment Bill 2020. The call for evidence invites stakeholders to provide feedback to the Committee as part of its scrutiny of the legislation.
We recognise the legitimate desire of the New Zealand government to tackle unlawful and harmful content online, and our analysis found the majority of the proposals put forward in the Bill to be reasonable and sensible. However, we believe that certain aspects of the Bill, if taken forward in their current form, may still pose risks to individuals’ right to freedom of expression online, and could be inconsistent with New Zealand’s international human rights obligations.
In our submission, we set out our concerns and make a series of recommendations in the submission on how the proposals could be revised to mitigate these risks and help safeguard freedom of expression online.
Our recommendations include:
- Requiring the Chief Censor, which makes determinations on what material is prohibited in New Zealand, to consider and act consistently with the rights affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, including the right to free expression, when exercising their powers in relation to “objectionable content” online;
- Ensuring that New Zealand’s existing intermediary liability framework (which shields online platforms from liability provided they follow a specific process when users request content to be removed) is maintained in relation to “objectionable content”, with only very narrow exceptions where the Chief Censor has assessed a specific piece of online content to be “objectionable”;
- Ensuring that the power for Inspectors to order take-downs of online content are limited to cases where the content has been assessed as “objectionable” by the Chief Censor, rather than where the Inspector believes it to be “objectionable”; and
- Removing the provisions giving the Department of Internal Affairs the power to establish web filters which would prevent access to “objectionable content”.
On our last recommendation, we have also joined the joint statement coordinated by InternetNZ, calling for the removal of the provisions on web filters.
The submissions received will be used to inform the Committee’s report on the Bill. We’ll be following the Bill’s progress closely—sign up to our monthly Digest for regular updates and analysis.