A new national cyber-law centre is being set up and its first project is putting the Harmful Digital Communications Act under the microscope.
The New Zealand Centre for ICT Law, which opens next month at Auckland University, aims to provide an expanded legal education for students and provide research and development into the impact electronic technology has on the law.
The centre's new director, retiring district court Judge David Harvey, said he regarded the centre as a vital hub for both the legal fraternity and the public.
"More and more IT is becoming pervasive throughout our community and it's providing particular challenges and interesting developments as far as the law is concerned."
Research was already underway on the effectiveness of the Harmful Digital Communications Act.
Future projects would include digital aspects of the Search and Surveillance Act, Telecommunications Act and Copyright Act.
Mr Harvey, who consulted with the Law Commission on the legislation, said already significant trends were emerging in prosecutions taken under the Harmful Digital Communications Act.
In its first year 38 cases had come before the courts, which he described as surprisingly high for such a recent law.
"It's quite a few for a relatively new piece of legislation that's dealing with not a new phenomenon but a new technology, and it seems that the prosecution people with the police have been able to grapple with some of the aspects of this."
Researchers had already noticed a significant number of cases involved revenge porn and a broad swathe of electronic media used to harm others.
"[The act] catches any information that's communicated electronically. If you're making a nasty telephone call using voice on your smartphone, that amounts to an electronic communication. So it's the scope of the legislation and who's being picked up that becomes very, very interesting."
He said it remained troubling to see the level of harm inflicted through technology.
"It's a matter of concern that people seem to lack the inhibition that you would normally expect in what they say and what they do.
"A number of cases have involved posting intimate photographs and intimate videos online with the intention of harming somebody else. The number of occasions on which that has occurred is surprising.
"I think the level of anger that is expressed or at least the intensity of the language - hate speech - is also a matter of concern."
Mr Harvey expected the second component to the act, the civil agency to be headed by NetSafe, would have an enormous impact.
"It will be interesting to observe how many applications are made to the approved agency in the first place and subsequently how many are settled or resolved or go on to the court. I imagine there will be quite a bit of activity coming up once the civil enforcement regime is in place."
While it was still early days he was confident the act was providing help to people being cyberbullied.
"It won't solve the problem in the same way that making murder a crime doesn't stop murder but at least it will provide people with a remedy, with a place to go which they haven't had before."
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