Nova Scotia’s new Cyber-Safety Act is making headlines, but for all the wrong reasons. While the law was crafted with the best of intentions, the loose and overarching wording of the legislation is leaving many people mystified. The act is so broad; the potential for misuse is almost a guaranteed conclusion.
The Cyber-Safety Act defines cyberbullying as “any electronic communication that might reasonably be expected to humiliate another person or harm their emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation.”
It sounds great, until you apply some critical thought.
An email or telephone call telling you that you’ve been fired from your job will most likely harm your self-esteem. A text message or post to Facebook advising you that your partner has broken off your relationship will almost certainly harm your emotional well-being. This law, in essence, has made it illegal to post, text, call, or electronically distribute anything upsetting to anyone.
The penalties are also a matter of slack-jawed surprise. Judges have their choice of punishments, including seizing your computer or telephone, your Internet connection can be shut off, and you can be banned from using electronic devices indefinitely. Considering just about anyone who upsets the wrong person by using an electronic device can be punished in this manner, the potential for reverse bullying is huge.
While no one has yet attempted to use Nova Scotia’s Cyber Safety Act nefariously, it’s simply a matter of time. What’s even worse is that an IP address is used as ‘an address’. Meaning if your roommate could be convicted of cyberbullying and your Internet and your computer will be shut off and seized. It’ll be interesting to see this play out in university dormitories, apartment complexes and other venues where virtual strangers are forced to share space and Internet service.
The intention of the act is good, but it’s only a matter of time before sending a text to your neighbor advising them that their dog has been struck by a car is used as reason enough to strip you of your electronics and Internet connection. Changes to the act are the most likely outcome once the loopholes become clear to legislators.