Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Questions (65)

Jim O'Callaghan


65. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views regarding an enhanced role for a service (details supplied) in combating serious online harassment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26866/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice) is operated by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland. It is the national reporting service for illegal online content. It deals primarily with child sexual abuse material as defined in the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 as amended by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and its takedown in line with the provisions of EU Directive 2011/93 on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. It also takes reports concerning other illegal online content such as racism as covered by the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. Its remit does not extend to content which may be considered harmful but is not illegal.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment deals with the wider issue of online harms that are not illegal. That Department held a public consultation which was open until April 2019. It sought the views of citizens and stakeholders as to an achievable, proportionate and effective approach to regulating harmful content, particularly online. I understand that a significant number of submissions were received during the consultation period including one from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. I further understand the submissions are currently being considered by DCCAE in developing policy in this area and that the monitoring and take down of online content which is harmful will be considered as part of this process.

As the Deputy will be aware, harassment is already an offence under Section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. The 2016 Law Reform Commission Report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety identified a number of areas for reform in criminal legislation, including harassment.

The Deputy will also be conscious of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 which is a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Deputy Brendan Howlin. The main provisions of the Bill as published include extending the existing offence of sending threatening or indecent messages to apply to all threatening, false, indecent and obscene messages using any form of online or traditional method of communications.

The Bill also proposes extending the existing offence of harassment as contained in section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 to include all forms of communication, including through online or digital communications to or about a person. The Bill will criminalise the distribution of intimate images without consent that causes harm, commonly known as “revenge pornography”.

Following the agreement by Cabinet to support and amend the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, my officials engaged in extensive consultations with the sponsor of the Bill and the Office of the Attorney General to prepare draft amendments. These amendments were approved by Government on 1 May 2019 and have now been sent to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel to be formally drafted before they can be introduced at Committee Stage in the Dáil.

The amendments will ensure consistency in the provisions of the Bill overall. In relation to criminal offences, they will introduce a distinct offence of stalking in Ireland for the first time. They will provide for two separate image-based offences to deal with the phenomena of “upskirting” and “revenge pornography”. The amendments will also remove some of the civil provisions in the Bill that may be more appropriately dealt with through proposals to establish the Office of the Digital Safety Commissioner or a Regulator. These matters are, as I have said, currently being examined by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.