WA Police has called on the government to abandon plans to criminalise a range of cyberbullying activities, arguing it will draw cybercrime investigators into “personal disputes” and censorship.
The comments come as a part of a senate committee inquiry into the adequacy of existing Commonwealth, state and territory offences in dealing with cases of “cyberbullying”.
The force’s central cybercrime unit warned that “lowering the bar for criminality too far could generate a substantial increase in reported crime, draw police into non-core roles such as arbitrator and censor, and increase demand on police resources”.
It argued cyberbullying was an umbrella term for everything from “personal arguments and differences of opinion” to more serious activities that may warrant criminal investigation.
However, it conceded there was a need to “distinguish between behaviours and outcomes which are criminal in nature and those which are merely crass, confronting and sordid".
The force said present laws “sufficiently constrain the scope” of what can be criminalised.
While acknowledging that legislative review was required, it cautioned against taking things too far.
WA Police further said that should the federal government wish to penalise some forms of cybercrime more heavily, it should augment existing laws rather than write new ones.
“New ‘cyber’ specific offences are rarely required as the cyber component is simply the way the offence was committed,” WA Police said.
“If legislators wish to attach a higher penalty to a traditional offence which has been committed online, then the WA Police Force recommend this be achieved by extending the existing offence rather than creating a new offence, or by making the cyber component an aggravating feature triggering the higher penalty range.
“For example, add an additional penalty to the offence of fraud for offences committed online rather than creating a new offence for online fraud.”
Facebook A/NZ director of policy Mia Garlick and director of global safety Antigone Davis also cautioned against criminal offences for some cyberbullying activities.
“We would encourage [senators] to consider the suitability of criminal laws to tackle
cyberbullying as a last resort only,” the Facebook representatives said.
“With respect to safe and responsible online behaviour, particularly in relation to young people, industry, government and the community should be focused on prevention and resolutions that are less than criminal punishments.
“Criminal sanctions should, based on our experience and the feedback from the child safety experts that we work with, only be used when all other solutions have proven to be to unsuccessful.”
Facebook also said it “would encourage [senators] to consider carve outs from liability for responsible intermediaries" such as the social media giant.