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Harmful Digital Communications (HDC)

The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 (the Act) tackles some of the ways people use technology to hurt others. It aims to prevent and reduce the impact of online bullying, harassment, revenge porn and other forms of abuse and intimidation.

The act sets out:

  • New measures to help people affected by harmful digital communications by providing access to a complaints agency (Netsafe) and court ordered remedies; and
  • New criminal offences to penalise the most serious offenders.

What are Digital Communications?

Digital communications are any form of electronic communication including:

  • Emails;
  • Texts and pictures;
  • Website content;
  • Blog posts;
  • Comments;
  • Online forums (or “Chatrooms”);
  • Social networks or social media sites; and
  • Phone-based apps.

Netsafe as the Approved Agency

Netsafe is the approved agency to take complaints of harmful digital communications and informs people about the options that are available to them to remedy the situation. Their service aims to lessen the harm caused to people targeted online by using, persuasion, mediation and negotiation to help reach a resolution for both parties involved. Netsafe cannot punish people for their actions online, or force them to take action.

Find out about Netsafe’s service

The Police role in HDC

The act also includes criminal offences that are dealt with by Police. Under the act it can be illegal to send messages and post material online that deliberately cause somebody serious emotional distress.

The main role of Police is investigating these cases of “causing harm by posting digital communication”. Police and Netsafe need to ensure that any online content required as evidence is not removed or taken down prior to being captured. Generally if Police are involved, then Netsafe should also be made aware of the matter.  

Police may also receive complaints, or identify situations where the threshold of serious emotional distress is not reached.  In these cases they can be referred back to Netsafe for them to engage the issues identified.