Digital technology: Safe and responsible use in schools

This guide provides principals and teachers with the information to act confidently and in the best interests of students with regard to digital technology. 

Criminal offences and civil law

General information on types of problematic conduct and relevant legislation is provided below. This does not constitute specific legal advice.

  • Criminal offences
    • Intimidation, harassment and threatening behaviours

      Threatening behaviour

      This includes threatening to, kill or do grievous bodily harm, destroy property or to cause harm to people or property. Examples are, comments on social media sites that include a threat to life or destruction of property. If threatening behaviour is implicated in an incident, it should be reported to the police.

      • Relevant legislation: Crimes Act 1961, Section 306 & 307.

      Intimidating behaviour

      This involves actions that intend to frighten or intimidate another person.
      Examples are private messages sent via a mobile application that include threats to injure a person or any member of his or her family, or to damage any of that person’s property.

      • Relevant legislation: Summary Offences Act 1981, Section 21.

      Harassing behaviour

      This involves harassing another person with the intent of causing them to fear for their safety or the safety of their family. An example is creating a social media account under a pseudonym that is used to post personal information about another person such as posting photos of where they live.

      • Relevant legislation: Harassment Act 1997, Section 8 / Telecommunications Act 2001, Section 112.

      Aiding and abetting suicide

      This involves inciting or counselling someone to commit or attempt to commit suicide. An example is an internet ‘troll’ repeatedly goading someone to kill him or herself.

      • Relevant legislation: Crimes Act 1961, Section 179.

      Intimate photos or videos

      This relates to making or posting online, sexually explicit photos or videos of a person that were made without that person’s knowledge or consent.

      • Relevant legislation: Crimes Act 1961, Section 216H, 216I, 216J.

      Online grooming

      This relates to an adult using the internet to manipulate and gain trust of a minor as a first step towards the future sexual abuse, production of objectionable material, or exposure of that to a minor.

      • Relevant legislation: Crimes Act 1961, Section 131B & 98AA.

      Unauthorised access to an online account

      This relates to anyone gaining access to a social media account without the authorisation of its owner. For example, taking over a school’s social media account, changing the passwords to prevent access and then using it to harass members of staff.

      • Relevant legislation: Crimes Act 1961, Section 249 & 252.

      Objectionable and restricted material

      Objectionable material

      Any digital content or communication is objectionable if it “describes, depicts or expresses, or otherwise deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good.”12 All objectionable material is banned. A person could have committed an offence if, for example, they collect or view online images of sexual conduct involving children.

      • Relevant legislation: Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, Section 123 & 131.

      Reporting objectionable material

      The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) investigates and sometimes prosecutes people who deliberately collect objectionable material and find ways to distribute it to other people via the internet. Occasionally, the nature of the internet can lead to somebody viewing objectionable material by accident. This is one reason why searching a device or requesting digital content to be forwarded to a teacher or authorised staff member is not advisable.

      Objectionable material can be reported through DIA.

      Content complaint form – DIA(external link)

      DIA has implemented an internet and website filtering system known as the Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System (DCEFS) to block websites that host child sexual abuse images.

      The DCEFS significantly reduces (but does not eliminate) the chances of accidental access to objectionable material online.

      Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System – DIA(external link)

      This is available to all New Zealand internet service providers (ISPs) on a voluntary basis.

      The Network for Learning’s (N4L) managed network uses the DCEFS on the internet services it provides to schools.

      If your school is with a different provider, you can check to see if its services apply the DCEFS.

      ISPs using the filter – DIA(external link)

      Restricted material

      Restricted material is made available to people who are over a certain age using a rating system, such as that used in New Zealand for movies; G, PG, M, R16 and R18. A person could have committed an offence if, for example, they were an adult sending sexually explicit text or images to a person under 18.

      • Relevant legislation: Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, Crimes Act 1961.


      This involves threatening, expressly or by implication, to make any accusation against any person to disclose something about any person or to cause serious damage to property or endanger the safety of any person with intent. An example would be a person threatening to publish an intimate recording unless more recordings or money were forthcoming.

      • Relevant legislation: Crimes Act 1961, Section 237.

      Scam or fraud

      This relates to using the internet to either obtain money or to cause loss by deception. An example is accessing a computer system for dishonest purposes, or conspiring to bring false accusation, or forgery.

      • Relevant legislation: Crimes Act 1961, Section 115, 228, 240, 249 & 256. 
  • Civil law
    • Civil law covers disputes between individuals, companies and sometimes local or central government. Civil law disputes are generally the cases in court that are not about breaking a criminal law.

      New Zealand’s civil justice system works in such a way that cases can be resolved through a claims process. Both parties are encouraged to find a resolution which means it is not always necessary to go to court.


      This means damaging the good reputation of someone by making slanderous or libellous statements.

      • Relevant legislation: Defamation Act 1992.


      Discrimination occurs where a distinction is drawn between people on the basis of a personal characteristic, and that distinction leads to actual or assumed disadvantage.

      • Relevant legislation: Human Rights Act 1993, Section 21.


      Directing specified acts such as giving offensive material to someone or entering or interfering with their property.

      • Relevant legislation: Harassment Act 1997, Section 3 & 4, Part 3.

      Breach of privacy

      The Privacy Act 2020 controls how personal information is collected, used, disclosed, stored and accessed.

      • Relevant legislation: Privacy Act 2020, Part 5.