Monday 21 January 2019

Sherlock leads call for revised laws on cyber harassment

Deputy Sean Sherlock
Deputy Sean Sherlock

Bill Browne

Parents need to be able to have confidence in the laws of the land that monitor and regulate online activity. 

That's the view of Cork East Labour TD Sean Sherlock, who was commenting on a new bill proposed by his party on the issue that was debated in the Dáil. 

The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill seeks to modernise existing harassment laws to cover modern technology and social media and is based on a Law Reform Commission Report which specifically recommended the outlawing of two kinds of incidents. 

One of these is the posting of intimate images online without consent and the other aims to prevent the secret filming or photographing of a person's intimate areas, also known as 'upskirting' or 'down-blousing.'

"There has never been a more opportune and pertinent time for this legislation to be passed through the Dáil in a timely fashion because of the gravity of the issue at hand," said Deputy Sherlock. 

He pointed out that the offence of harassment was currently covered under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act (1997), adding it was "worrying" that existing laws do not cover modern everyday communication platforms.

"Our laws have not been updated since the invention of the text message Young people, who are primarily the victims of cyberbullying and revenge porn, are more likely to use WhatsApp, iMessage and Snapchat to communicate with each other. We need to ensure that they are protected under our laws and that we have a legal basis that reflects these new media," said Deputy Sherlock. 

He said the new version would legislate that a person who intentionally or recklessly and without lawful authority or reasonable excuse engages in harassment could be prosecuted. 

"This allows for the development of the new media that have arisen in recent years and these new media are reflected in the legislation, making it fit for purpose," said Deputy Sherlock. 

"While protecting freedom of expression, we need to bring the law up to date to protect people online. Revenge porn, threats, false messages and online bullying need to be stopped. People want guidance to ensure the space children inhabit on the Internet is safe and that there are mechanisms in place to punish those who transgress. That is the purpose of the legislation."

Deputy Sherlock said there was a "clear political census" that punitive measures be put in place and that it was important Gardai were given the necessary resources to enforce these measures. 

"There are not enough people deployed within the Gardaí to try to tackle crimes of this nature," he said.

"There needs to be a debate about the need to resource the Gardaí to be able to tackle this issue, which I hope will happen in the course of this legislation."