Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Online Harassment in Australia

The Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC) WHICH is hosted in Canberra by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), has issued advise on online harrassment and threats. The AHTCC works cooperatively with relevant agencies in Australia and overseas.

Although the following advise is Australia-focused, much of it would be valid in other countries as well.

Harassment and threats
Harassment and threats, including those made online, are public safety issues and should be reported directly to your local police, particularly if you are concerned for your physical safety.

If you feel your personal safety is in immediate danger, report it by dialling '000'.

If appropriate, your local state or territory police should:

*take a report of the crime, identifying any relevant offence(s) under State legislation.
*compile any relevant victim and witness statements.
*take copies of relevant documentation.
*consider capturing electronic evidence. Your local law enforcement agency has a specialist area to assist with this consideration and any requirements.
*conduct any relevant checks relating to suspect information and include an investigation file.
*compile a cover sheet detailing the investigation conducted and requesting any further investigation.
*transfer the file to the appropriate agency with jurisdiction relating to the suspect.

Depending on the circumstances, it is possible your situation may be prosecuted as a 'stalking' offence under relevant state or territory legislation.

The Commonwealth offence of 'Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence' contrary to Section 474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 may also be applicable. All state and territory police have the authority and power to charge a person with a Commonwealth offence.

Proceeding with an investigation or prosecution is determined by the state or territory police officer handling your matter. He/She has to examine the evidence and be satisfied an offence exists and is worth prosecuting.

The case officer is welcome to contact the AHTCC if they require any assistance or advice with aspects of the case, and they can also seek advice and assistance from their police computer crime team.

Online harassment is generally undertaken to promote fear or uncertainty and to provoke a response. You can reduce your exposure to online harassment by staying away from websites where the perpetrator can communicate with you. It is also important to always be vigilant about personal security.

The AHTCC works cooperatively with relevant agencies in Australia and overseas to reduce the incidence and impact of such activity.

Defamation involves the publication of material that tends to injure the personal, professional, and trade or business reputation of an individual or a company, to expose them to ridicule or to cause people to avoid them.

While the AHTCC appreciates that defamation involving the use of computers and the Internet can cause distress, you are advised to seek independent legal advice regarding avenues and access to remedies.

More information:

Outline of a possible national defamation law (Attorney-General's website).
Defamation at OzNetlaw.
Information for employers on defamation (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission).