Labour Party demand stricter punishment for online harassment and revenge porn 2 years ago

Labour Party demand stricter punishment for online harassment and revenge porn

The Bill will attempt to broaden what constitutes harassment to encompass all modes of communication.

Ireland needs to regulate and tackle online harassment, cyber-bullying and so-called 'revenge porn', Labour leader Brendan Howlin says.

With the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, the Labour Party will attempt to update the existing Irish laws on harassment to encompass social media and modern technology following recommendations in the Law Reform Commission's report on Harmful Communications and Digital Strategy.

The bill, which provides for a six-month prison sentence upon conviction, was discussed during Private Members' time in the Dáil on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Howlin said: "Our Bill seeks to bring existing regulation up to date by broadening the legal definition of communication, so it covers all electronic, written and spoken word, including, for example, an iMessage, Whatsapp or Facebook message, and a tweet or social media post."

Howlin also addressed concerns over whether this would be seen as censorship, insisting: "I believe the internet is a public space and I believe that, as with all public spaces, our people deserve protection there. Some will disagree - some see the internet as a great libertarian or anarchist play space. Labour’s view is that it is a space that needs regulation."

Current legislation only covers phone and text messages which could be seen as obscene or offensive, but under the new bill, Howlin said that in order to expand its reach, the Bill adopts the broadest definition to mean communication of information by any means.

The Bill also creates a new offence of distributing intimate images without consent, which is more commonly known as 'revenge porn'.

"Free speech should remain just that," Howlin said in his conclusion. "But harassment, stalking, and aggravated online bullying are not expressions of freedom - they are attacks on it."

Labour TD and Spokesperson on Housing and Local Government, Jan O'Sullivan, spoke about Joni O'Sullivan, the mother of Zoe, a 17-year-old girl who attempted suicide twice because of online bullying.

The Labour TD told the house how the 17-year-old girl received upwards of 50 messages a day for more than a year, all of which constituted cyber-bullying.

"What happened to Zoe and many other young people shows just how urgently we need to bring our laws up-to-date so that the various social media platforms used so extensively by young people are policed to protect those who are harassed and bullied in this horrific way", O'Sullivan said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also spoke in the Dáil, saying he is in agreement with the idea, but that internet policing is highly challenging.