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Government Publishes Online Safety Bill – 188/2023

By March 31, 2023 No Comments

His Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar has today published a Bill for a Crimes and Communications (Online Safety) Act 2023.

Following consultation with stakeholders, including the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority, the Bill focuses on the creation of new criminal offences in relation to harms which are committed online with the objective of enhancing protection of those in social media spaces.

The first new offence included in the Bill is with respect to flashing images. This was a UK Law Commission recommendation that there should be a specific offence of the intentional sending of flashing images to a person with epilepsy with the intention to cause that person to have a seizure. This follows the Zach’s Law campaign after a then 8 year boy with cerebral palsy and epilepsy was targeted by online bullies when doing a sponsored walk for the Epilepsy Society. He and his family campaigned for a new targeted offence, and three years later the UK Government has committed to creating this law.

The Bill also creates a new offence in relation to “cyberflashing” which expands on current exposure offences. The new offence includes the unsolicited sending of sexual images using digital technology and differs from other forms of image-based sexual abuse where the victim is the subject to the image – here the victim is the recipient. Often, victims will not know the identity of the sender, as pictures or recordings are sent using peer-to-peer protocol such as Airdrop, so the recipient experiences the twofold threat of a sender who is not only anonymous but near them.

Finally the Bill includes an offence regarding the possession of extreme pornographic images. In the UK, this was made an offence in 2008 following campaigning by the mother of a schoolteacher murdered by a man with an addiction to hardcore internet pornography. This law would shift criminal responsibility from distributors of extreme pornography to consumers, which was deemed necessary in the UK in order to deal with the volume of violent pornography available on websites based abroad. The Bill would make it an offence to possess pornographic images that depict acts which threaten a person’s life, acts which result in or are likely to result in serious injury, bestiality or necrophilia; they also provide for the exclusion of classified films etc. and set out defences and the penalties for the offence.

Finally the Bill also introduces a new duty on the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority promote media literacy. The criminal law could only be a limited part of the solution to online abuse, in part due to the enormous volume of online communications. Tackling online abuse requires not just criminal law but also education and cultural change.

The Minister for Justice, the Hon Samantha Sacramento MP, said: “I am pleased to note the publication of this Bill which updates a number of Gibraltar’s criminal offences so as to provide additional protections to the public from online harms. This important Bill provides for the creation of specific offences relating to certain serious acts which could fall outside our current law as well as bringing our law regarding extreme pornography in line with that of the UK. Just as importantly the Bill will impose a duty on the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority to promote media literacy which underlines and recognises the fact that the dealing with online harm needs a holistic approach based not just on criminal sanctions but also on education.”