The Minister for Justice is pleased to note that on Wednesday 19th July, Parliament passed the Crimes and Communications (Online Safety) Act 2023 which creates new criminal offences in relation to harms which are committed online with the objective of enhancing protection of those in social media spaces.
The new offences include “cyberflashing” which expands on current exposure offences. This 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.
The Act also includes an offence regarding the possession of extreme pornographic images. This follows the introduction of such an offence in the the UK back in 2008, following a campaign by the mother of a schoolteacher murdered by a man with an addiction to hardcore internet pornography. This law shifts 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 Act makes 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.
There is also a new offence included in the Act 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 provisions included in the Act follow careful consultation with stakeholders, including the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority and representations (in particular with regards to the extreme pornography offence) received from the RGP and MAPPA.
Finally the Bill also introduces a new duty on the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority promote media literacy.
The Minister for Justice, the Hon Samantha Sacramento MP, said: “The passing of this Act is an important and significant step in closing certain gaps in our criminal law to ensure the public are better protected from online harms. This new specific offences relate 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 following representations from stakeholders including MAPPA and the RGP. However it is important to realise that the criminal law is only a part of the solution to online abuse. There not only needs to be criminal sanctions relating to certain online acts but also education and cultural change in Gibraltar and the duty on the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority to promote media literacy will ensure that we work towards that.”