I was going to look at the ten Communication Principles in the Harmful Digital Communications (HDC) Bill in detail but then it struck me- from a practical perspective, do they really matter? Should we care about their specific wording, origin, flaws, etc.?
(This is the fifth perspective on the HDC Bill, starting from the first one about safe harbours.)
The ten Communication Principles were set out by the Law Commission. They are ‘stripped down law’ in that the principles are derived from a variety of existing legislation and court decisions but are stripped of the context and, in many cases, the balances and nuances of the origin.
“The Approved Agency and the courts must take the principles into account when performing functions or exercising powers under this legislation.” Specifically, the District Court is required by clause 11(2) to establish that there has been a serious or repeated breach of one or more of the communication principles that has caused harm (“serious emotional distress”) to a person.
In that sense, the Communication Principles are very important. They specify everything that people cannot communicate digitally.
On the other hand, working backwards from the fact that someone has suffered serious emotional distress, there needs to have also been a breach of one or more Communication Principles. But, and this is the important thing, if someone has actually suffered serious emotional distress, it is trivial to fit the offending communication into one or more Communication Principles.
Given harm (serious emotional distress) caused by a digital communication has occurred, I can’t think of a single example where the offending communication isn’t covered by at least one Communication Principle. In that sense the Communication Principles are so wide that their actual wording and scope become irrelevant. If there is harm caused by a digital communication, it is pretty much covered by the HDC Bill.
The Communication Principles don’t apply when a person makes a criminal complaint. Here it is all about harm- intention and actual occurrence.
Consequently, taking a harm-based approach, there is little point in taking an in-depth look at the actual wording of the Communication Principles themselves. I’ll leave that to others so inclined.
To me the rule of thumb rule is: if a digital communication actually causes harm it is covered by the HDC Bill.
At best, the actual wording of the Communication Principles are useful in splitting hairs in District Court proceedings. Good luck with that.