The Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality is seeking written submissions from stakeholders on the issues of online harassment, harmful communications and related offences. The invitation follows an announcement last May 2019, that the Government intends to draft, on a priority basis, amendments to the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017. That Bill is based on a 2016 Report by the Law Reform Commission, which recommended reform and consolidation of criminal law offences concerning harmful communications, and the establishment of Digital Safety Commissioner to oversee national digital safety standards and take-down procedures for harmful digital communications.
The Committee wishes to examine the nature and extent of the problems of online cyber bullying, harassment, stalking, revenge porn and other forms of harmful communications; international best practice for addressing these problems, and whether self-regulation of harmful communications by online companies is preferable to the creation of more laws. It is seeking data from online service providers in relation to the prevalence of activities such as cyber bullying and online harassment, that could be used to develop and draft legislation in this area.
The Committee intends to commence a series of public hearings on 2 October 2019, with a view to publishing a report. The list of issues which the Government is considering are set out here. The closing date for receipt of submissions is Friday 20 September 2019.
Stakeholders who wish to respond are asked to include in their written submissions: a brief introduction explaining their area of expertise; any factual information from which the Committee might be able to draw conclusions, or which could be put to other parties for their views; and any recommendations for action by the Government which the Committee could include in its report to the Houses of the Oireachtas,
Separately, last March 2019, the Government launched a public consultation seeking views on how to effectively regulate harmful online content, with a view to publishing an Online Safety Bill. The Government proposes establishing an Online Safety Commissioner via that Bill (discussed in our previous blog). In June 2019, the Government published the 84 submissions it received in relation to that consultation.