New powers to issue take-down notices for harmful content online have been unsuccessful, with seven of eight orders ignored so far, Marc Daalder reports

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) says it is “disappointing” that websites have ignored all but one of its take-down notices for harmful online content.

New legislation empowering the agency to issue these notices came into effect in February 2022 and it began doling them out from June.

However, information released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act shows just eight notices have been issued as of December 21. Only one was adhered to, and that came after a second follow-up “non-compliance warning” was issued.

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The department declined to release the notices themselves to Newsroom, saying doing so could prejudice law enforcement efforts. While DIA can pursue non-compliant websites in court, it can only do so for websites based in New Zealand. None of the eight recipients of the notices were based here.

A spokesperson for the department said the notices were a tool of last resort and most harmful content can be removed through less authoritative means.

“A formal Takedown Notice is just one tool used by the department to remove or prevent access by the New Zealand public to an objectionable publication. Most online content hosts comply with the department’s informal take-down requests, and the department has trusted flagger status on many platforms,” they said.

“In instances where informal approaches are not effective, or the online content host is non-responsive and/or non-compliant, the department will serve a formal Takedown Notice. A formal Takedown Notice has no legal effect outside of New Zealand.”

The spokesperson added that the notices were useful in helping law enforcement in overseas jurisdictions remove the content.

“While it is disappointing when online content hosts decline to remove content, the department has close working relationships with law enforcement and regulatory agencies around the world who work closely with us to remove unlawful content. The legal status of a takedown notice is helpful for our international partners – leading to faster outcomes.”

Notices can only be issued for “objectionable” content under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act.

In 2021, the vast majority of objectionable content examined by DIA was child sexual exploitation material. More than 4000 links were uploaded to the internet filter which blocks access to this content.

By comparison, the department only investigated 614 links related to violent extremist content, a third of which were not deemed objectionable. There is currently no internet filter for violent extremist content, although Newsroom reported last year that DIA had resurrected plans for an opt-in option.

It is unclear how many of the eight notices related to child exploitation material or violent extremism, though the existence of the filter for the former presumably lessens the need for take-down notices. The notices ask the content hosts themselves to remove the material, rather than blocking access to it through an intermediary system.

In its OIA response, the department emphasised it “does not impose additional restrictions on New Zealanders’ online activity over and above those that are clearly set out in law or set by the platforms themselves as part of their commercial terms of service”.

The second annual transparency report on DIA’s online extremism work is due later this year.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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