76. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to produce legislation to make the distribution of revenge porn an offence; and his views on the Law Reform Commission paper on harmful communications and digital safety (details supplied). [5563/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Law Reform Commission report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety recommends a range of new offences relating to the conduct of individuals on the internet. Specifically, it recommends two new offences to deal with posting online intimate images without consent (so- called “revenge pornography”) and voyeurism. It also proposes reform of the existing offence of harassment, to ensure that it includes online activity such as posting fake social media profiles; and a new separate offence of stalking, seen as an aggravated form of harassment, as well as reform of the existing offence of sending threatening and intimidating messages.
My Department is responsible for keeping the criminal law up to date in this area. For example, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 addressed aspects of the LRC Report, including a number of measures to significantly strengthen existing criminal law in combatting child exploitation - in particular to address the use of modern communication technologies as a tool which may lead to child sexual exploitation.
Following a Government decision in December 2016, work had begun in my Department to address the main criminal law aspects of the LRC Report. As the Deputy will be aware, last week Deputy Brendan Howlin introduced a Private Member’s Bill on Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences and the Government decided not to oppose it as it is broadly in line with the draft legislation under preparation in my Department. That Bill has now progressed through second stage in the Dáil. I have committed to working with colleagues across the political divide to ensure that we make rapid progress and enact legislation in this area at the earliest opportunity.
The Law Reform Commission's report also addresses a number of other regulatory issues that have implications across Government Departments. I welcome the fact that the report addresses the wider context within which law reform should be framed and that it has identified the need for education and empowerment, the need to strike the correct balance between the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy, and the desirability of a graduated response where the criminal law is reserved for the most significant harm.
The report also recommends the establishment of a Digital Safety Commissioner. This is one of a number of recommendations which will be discussed in detail at an Open Policy Debate on the subject of online content on 8 March 2018. This event is being organised by my colleague Minister Naughten with the support and participation of other Government Departments. It is intended that the event will identify issues requiring further consideration and areas where additional cooperation between stakeholders would be beneficial.