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New Zealand Censors Declare Christchurch Shooting Footage Illegal; Start Rounding Up Violators

Published: March 26, 2019
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Source: Tech Dirt

Following the recent mass shooting in New Zealand, the county's government swiftly declared the live footage of the attack, along with the shooter's manifesto, "objectionable." This classification is more than a condemnation: it made both illegal to possess or distribute. Thanks to this response, New Zealand law enforcement is now rounding up and charging anyone who violates this post-tragedy decision to make newsworthy content the legal equivalent of child porn.

The first reported arrest occurred March 17th, two days after the shooter livestreamed his attack on local mosques.

A teenager has appeared in a New Zealand court charged with distributing the livestream video of a deadly mass shooting at Christchurch’s Al Noor mosque.

The 18-year-old, whose name was suppressed by the judge, was also charged with publishing a photograph of the mosque with the message “target acquired”, and for inciting violence.

He faces a maximum of 14 years in prison for each charge, prosecutors said.

On top of the stiff potential penalties, the judge also apparently believed the 18-year-old posed enough of a threat (for further violence or just simply disappearing) to deny him bail.

The arrests resulting from New Zealand's media censorship office's declaration continue.

A Christchurch businessman has appeared in court on charges of distributing footage of one of the mosque shootings.

Philip Neville Arps, 44, had his application for bail declined when he appeared in the Christchurch District Court today.

He was remanded in custody until his next appearance on April 15.

Another arrest for distributing "obscene" footage and another denial of bail.

In both cases, those arrested appear to be sympathetic (if that's the right word -- it seems so wrong) with the shooter's hatred of Muslims and preference for a whiter tomorrow. The 18-year-old's "target acquired" comment suggested, at minimum, they saw nothing wrong with targeting members of certain religions.

Philip Arps appears to be a long-time proponent of white nationalism -- even going so far as to use a symbol appropriated by neo-Nazis as the logo for his business. Arps apparently spent the days after the shooting praising the shooter and refusing to apologize for his views. A review of Arps' business by Stuff Magazine shows Arp hasn't exactly kept his personal beliefs and his company's public presence from intermingling.

Beneficial Insulation also charges $14.88 per metre for insulation – 14.88 is a hate symbol popular with white extremists.

The company's website www.BIIG.co.nz, is an acronym for the company's full name Beneficial Insulation Installs Guaranteed. BIIg was the name of a barracks at Auschwitz concentration camp, operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II and the Holocaust.

While it may seem like it's a good idea to take these people out of circulation, the fact that they're facing a possible 14 years for sharing content arbitrarily declared "obscene" is… well… obscene. These may appear to be clear-cut interpretations of the law, given the sympathies of the people arrested, but future arrests may not be so unambiguous. The footage declared illegal is still newsworthy and the media censorship board hasn't exactly made it clear it won't be sending cops after people who use the footage for journalism, research, or criticism.

The ban of the complete video does not automatically mean that any image or short extract from it is also banned. However any edited clips, screenshots or still images taken from the full video depicting scenes of violence, injury or death, or that promote terrorism, may also be illegal.

Violations will be in the eye of the government beholder. Some violators won't even know they've violated the law until they're being rung up on charges and denied bail. This is an overreaction to a pretty much unprecedented development: the livestreaming of a mass murder. The potential for misjudgment and abuse is huge, given the natural tendency of people to share and comment on newsworthy incidents.

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