Identifying Trolls…Lords committee proposes that social media websites should be forced to verify the identity of members

Posted: 7 August, 2014 in Parliament
Tags: ,
Read more UK Parliament Watch at MelonFarmers.co.uk

house of lords red logo The House of Lords Select Committee on Communication have published a report on social media offences. The committeemore or less finds that general law on harassment and malicious communication etc aresufficient to cover the social media world. However the lords worryingly suggest that unanimous messagingshould not be allowed with the onus on websites to verify ID before allowing users to post content or messages.  The report introduces itself as follows:

Legislation currently in existence, including the Communications Act 2003 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, along with the guidelines for applying them published by the Director of Public Prosecutions, are enough to ensure that criminal offences committed using social media can be adequately prosecuted, says the House of Lords Communications Committee in its new report.

However, the Committee is calling for more clarity from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as to when an indecent communication (e.g. revenge porn ) could — and should — be subject to prosecution under existing powers. It is also encouraging website operators such as Facebook and Twitter to speed up requests for identification of users from our law enforcement agencies, using powers already granted by Parliament. The Committee is also calling for better statistics on the balance of offences committed online and by traditional means, as well as the number of offences that are actually reported.

And the more detail conclusions are:

(a) the criminal law in this area, almost entirely enacted before the invention of social media, is generally appropriate for the prosecution of offences committed using the social media;

(b) there are aspects of the current statute law which might appropriately be adjusted and certain gaps which might be filled. We are not however persuaded that it is necessary to create a new set of offences specifically for acts committed using the social media and other information technology;

(c) the Director of Public Prosecutions’ guidance for prosecutions involving communications sent using social media appropriately takes account of freedom of expression;

(d) what is not an offence off-line should not be an offence online. There is no specific criminal offence of bullying. We consider that the current range of offences, notably those found in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, is sufficient to prosecute bullying conducted using social media. Similarly, sending a communication which is grossly offensive and has the purpose of causing distress or anxiety is an offence under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988. Although we understand that trolling causes offence, we do not see a need to create a specific and more severely punished offence for this behaviour;

(e) we would welcome clarification from the Director of Public Prosecutions as to the circumstances in which an indecent communication could and should be subject to prosecution under section 127 of the Communications act 2003 or section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988;

(f) due to the frequent need to obtain evidence from abroad, it would be proportionate to extend the period for the investigation of offences committed using social media to be tried in a magistrates’ court to be extended from 6 to 12 months;

(g) a number of statutes passed before the invention of the internet refer to publications in terms only of print media. For example, section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 restricts reporting by newspapers in relation to children involved in criminal proceedings: electronic communications and social media are not caught; we believe they should be;

(h) there are often calls to increase the severity of sentence available for the punishment of these sorts of offences. We favour increasing the courts’ discretion in this area but we would be reluctant for Parliament to require more cases to be tried in the Crown Court (i.e. judge and jury as opposed to magistrates), due to the implications for workload. Any increase in flexibility should be carefully monitored and the proportionality of the consequences considered;

(i) from our perspective in the United Kingdom, if the behaviour which is currently criminal is to remain criminal and capable of prosecution, we consider that it would be proportionate to require the operators of websites first to establish the identity of people opening accounts but that it is also proportionate to allow people thereafter to use websites using pseudonyms or anonymously. There is little point in criminalising certain behaviour and at the same time legitimately making that same behaviour impossible to detect. We recognise that this is a difficult question, especially as it relates to jurisdiction and enforcement;

(j) from our perspective, the only way to resolve questions of jurisdiction and access to communications data would be by international treaty. The question is relevant to many more areas of the law and public protection than criminal offences committed using social media and is politically contentious in most countries. This raises issues beyond the scope of this inquiry.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.