New technology sometimes needs new laws — and in Nova Scotia, it looks like the government is taking cyber-bullying very seriously indeed. The province has introduced a new anti-cyber-bullying after the suicide of teenager Rehtaeh Parsons.
Rehtaeh, who was 17, hung herself after she was reportedly sexually assaulted and photographs from the assault were posted online.
There are still many unanswered questions in the case and no charges have been laid.
But one of the offshoots of the tragedy is Nova Scotia’s Bill 61, the Cyber-Safety Act.
The act is only in first reading, but it already has opposition support.
And some of its conditions are well worth taking note of. Not only does the law provide for court action halting bullying through prevention orders, fines up to $5,000 and even jail time of up to six months, it also hits cyberbullies (and by extension, their parents, if the bullies are minors) where it really hurts: the legislation provides the groundwork to force Internet providers to “out” anonymous users, and then enables the bullied to sue for damages.
The court would be able to grant an order requiring companies to provide: “any information that may help identify a person who may have used an Internet Protocol address, website, username or account, electronic-mail address or other unique identifier, that may have been used for cyberbullying, any information that may help identify a device capable of connecting to an Internet Protocol address that may have been used for cyberbullying, cellular telephone records, inbound and outbound text messaging records, Internet browsing-history records, and other records that would assist in investigating the complaint.”
It is a broad brush and one that carries substantial penalties for bullies and, potentially, for their parents as well.
It remains to be seen what the law will look like in its final form, and how well it will stand up against legal challenges of its powers. But it does provide a small ray of hope.
Any parent whose children have been bullied, stalked or humiliated over electronic media can tell you how devastating the effects can be. Children or teens who have no idea who is attacking them or when it will stop, forced to look over their shoulders constantly and wonder just who might be the instigator of the attacks. It may be a faceless crime; it certainly isn’t a victimless one.
And while no law will ever rid the world of bullies — we have too many, even among the highest offices in the land — this is a good step, and one that other provinces should look at enacting.
Perhaps if there are clear consequences — and consequences that are applied enough times for perpetrators to recognize that they are running a clear risk and that the anonymity of the web
doesn’t really exist when law enforcement gets involved — people will think twice before using new tools in an age-old and despicable practice.