‘Vindicated’ Lorraine Higgins welcomes proposed crackdown on online harassment

Former Labour senator backs proposals to tackle revenge porn and stalking

lorraine higgins

Lorraine Higgins at a Labour event in Dublin in February 2016 | Photo: RollingNews.ie

Lorraine Higgins has compared her past efforts to introduce anti-cyberbullying legislation as "whistling in the wind".

The former Labour senator today welcomed measures recommended by the Law Reform Commission (LRC) to tackle online harassment and stalking, among other online activities.

A report published by the independent legal body suggests amending existing laws to deal with threatening and intimidating online messages. 

It also calls for the criminalisation of stalking and so-called revenge porn, or the posting of sexually explicit images without consent.

Ms Higgins said many of the proposals mirror provisions in her internet safety bill, which passed the second Seanad stage last year.

The proposed legislation aimed to tackle online threats and abuse but was criticised by some commentators for appearing to encroach on free speech.

Under her plan, a person found guilty of sharing harmful online content, including explicit images, would face up to 12 months in prison and/or a fine not exceeding  €5,000.

Ms Higgins has since lost her Seanad seat, however, meaning the Harmful and Malicious Electronic Communications Bill 2015 has yet to reach committee or report stage.

She told Newstalk.com that she still hopes to find another Oireachtas member to drive it past the remaining hurdles.

But the Galway-based barrister acknowledged facing a "serious wall of opposition" when she introduced the legislation in the Seanad.

"I started this campaign in 2014, and I've been whistling in the wind for most of the time," she said.

Ms Higgins, who was herself a victim of online bullying, described arguments made by some critics of her bill as "bunkum".

Referring to concerns over freedom of speech, she said: "That’s a constitutional right.

"Any legislation that would be put forward would be deemed unconstitutional if it contravened that section of the constitution. Being a barrister, I was conscious of that.

"People also said there were adequate laws in place and I’m glad the LRC has pointed out that is not the case."