back to article Mucky private chat could be illegal soon

Could 2010 be the year when the authorities finally clamp down on the internet – and in the process abolish some fundamental liberties we have been taking for granted for a very long time? The answer from two cases – one now over, though possibly subject to appeal, the other going forward to a full hearing later this year – …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its always had an element of how it affects "the recipient"

    I remember the Public Order Act, sec 5, (basically offensive language in the street) was to be judged in its effects on a person of reasonable firmness, or similar, who might happen to be in the area (regardless of there actually being such another person there).

    Some leeway is allowed. A buch of paratroopers might be judged to be less likely to be offended than say, the typical "sweet little old lady".

    On the other hand it does somewhat indicate the collectively the airport is a bit of a wimp.

    Still, its all rather worrying. They monitor our movements and our conversation. Takes me right back to the 80's and that "Edge of Darkness" feeling

  2. John F***ing Stepp

    We all have something to hide except me (because I am good.)

    I'm conflicted.

    Privacy is always an issue; on that I try to get around by using my for reals name.

    Then some SOB threatens a school.

    Oh wait, at this point it is no longer privacy is it?

    My next door neighbor 'bangs me up*' with the message that he is going to kill my ass.

    I just might 'grass him the hell out**' instead of fucking blowing his ass to hell and gone with a sawed off.

    *Been trying to learn English.

    **Not working well.

    Hey guys! the none icon never shows up; is this broken?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Due to reporting restrictions, we are unable to give any further details..."

    It's pretty bad when you can't even report on fundamental freedoms being abridged due to other fundamental freedoms already having been abridged.

    1. Dennis
      FAIL

      Re: Due to reporting restrictions, we are unable to give any further details...

      This is no different from any other case in England. The fundamental freedom is the right to a fair trial. Trials should be conducted in court and not in the presss.

      While a case is before a court (sub judice) it is inappropriate to comment on the details of the case. Such comments could prejudice the case and be contempt of court

      1. Captain Save-a-ho
        Coffee/keyboard

        Wrong side of the equation

        But that doesn't mean that the press should be censored from commenting. That means that the police should shut their fucking mouths and stop sharing details.

        The press should be able to offer any speculation or commentary they want without worrying about altering due process. It's the court system and law enforcement officials who should be censored in these cases.

        1. Black Betty
          Thumb Down

          Can you imagine the likes of Glen Beck...

          ...Rush Limpballs, or even your average British Tabloid alowed to say as they pleased on any and every little snippet of an ongoing trial, both in an out of context.

          Let's take a non-practicing perve, found in possession some of the more extreme doujinshi out there, and being charged under the OPA. He defends himself with the assertion that the only thing he takes from children is their smiles. Those with an agenda or axe to grind report this as he admits to stealing their innocence.

          This is why the press is not permitted to speculate on nuances of an ongoing trial/name names/show faces/etc. Why the word alleged gets bandied about until we joke and then bitch about its overuse. And why even entire transcripts themselves might be suppressed. Unless the procedure is changed to totally isolate jurors for the duration of a trial, the best we can do is mandate a minimum degree of censorship that minimises the exposure of jurors to trial matters outside the courtroom.

          Satisfying our taste for salacious gossip is a damned poor reason for needing to know right now, when every single relevant detail will ultimately be made available in most cases.

    2. Pete 2 Silver badge

      the children

      and by extension, I'd reckon we can assume that if there are (or were, or could be) minors within the group of recipients, the "think of the children" brigade will demand a zero tolerance. Not so much because there's any possibility the little darlinks would hear any phrases they don't already use on a daily basis, but simply as an abuse of power by their parents, to show off to their friends what good and caring and protective they are.

      1. system

        RE: the children

        Apparently "reporting ristrictions" mean that I can't post a link to other news sources here, but google can tell you how children just might be related to the issue.

    3. Smokey Joe
      Happy

      Really??!!

      Your donkey must've really pissed your neighbour off, but I suppose all is not lost if he's still willing to settle down and start a family with you.

      ;o)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's bad but could be worse

      At least El Reg is allowed to mention there are reporting restrictions. Check out super injunctions where the media are not even allowed to report that they're being gagged. The John Terry case is most famous recent one.

    5. Jon 52

      airport wimp

      I read somewhere that the even the airport MD said at the trial that they had not taken it seriously. Only the police were pressing on for conviction (presumbly so their conviction rates are met)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So...

    If one where to take, for instance, District Judge Jonathan Bennett's ruling as menacing or inconveniencing on grounds that it is threatening our right to free speech, and his ruling was published by the court via some sort of public telecommunications network (which I'm sure it probably has been), then we could have him prosecuted under the same act?

  5. Eddie Edwards
    Thumb Up

    Inconveniencing?

    Whenever my boss sends me email or IM I'm inconvenienced.

    Glad I can finally get legal recourse.

  6. lglethal Silver badge
    Go

    Not sure whether im worried or not...

    Without knowing the details of the first case, i must say it does sound extremely worrying. A chat between two people should be private no matter how it is undertaken. If it is then published online at a later date by one of the parties then perhaps, very perhaps, there may be a case to answer for if the message was threatening, but then i would have to say both parties (definitely the poster) might be in trouble. And it should definitely not fall under the auspices of the obscene publications act, that it does in this case is just ridiculous. E.g if it was a conversation about raping someone (even if no specific name was mentioned) then perhaps it could be breaking some sort of stalking or threatening messages law but definitely not the obscene publications act!

    The second case, though i have less trouble with. If you ring through a bomb threat, you can expect to be chased up and charged with making a threatening call. If you tweet the bomb threat, i see no reason why this should be handled differently. However, in this specific case, its gone to the extreme because this is obviously not a serious threat. At most it should be counted on about par with making a fake police or 112 call. That its gone to this level is again frankly ridiculous!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I disagree

      I disagree that the twitter was like a "fake police call"

      It is more akin to being in a loud pub and having to shout to make yourself heard by your mates. The chances are if you were talking about such things in a pub and on the off hand someone over heard, decided you were serious and then told the police it is likely nothing much would happen as neither the person making the report or the police could prove you said it, or prove what your intent was at the time (e.g. having a laugh/blowing off steam with your mates)

      It is a travesty of justice that the authorities (whether police/cps for pressing the case or who ever brought it to the attention of the police (I can't recall us being told how the police/airport were made aware of this)) have pressed the case.

      The opa one is just mind boggling, but heyho, I've given up on believing we live in a remotely just or liberal society.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: So...

      I would imagine that court rulings are legally privileged. In any case, there's a catch 22. In order to find his ruling "threatening" you'd have to be as bad as he is.

    3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      I'm confused

      "If you ring through a bomb threat, you can expect to be chased up and charged with making a threatening call. If you tweet the bomb threat, i see no reason why this should be handled differently."

      I can. If you ring through a bomb threat, you are specifically bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities and you are probably doing so anonymously. If you tweet it, you are naive to believe that any authority will see it in time to care, and it has your name attached to it. The former is threatening, because real terrorists operate this way. The latter is a joke, because real comedians operate this way.

      Fortunately, you contradict yourself in your next sentence, so it appears we don't disagree significantly after all.

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        but if it were real?

        I understand your position, basically: no-one would be stupid enough to use their real name. However, let's recall just how stupid some criminals (and, it must be said: ordinary members of the public) can be. From the burglar who used his victims PC to check his facebook page, or criminals who've left their mobiles at the scene. It's a fair bet that a lot of twitterers, admittedly the ones from the shallow end of the gene pool, don't realise that their real-world identity can be got from a twitter / facebook account or SMSs they send. While this case was meant as a prank, I am sure that in the past and more so in the future, people will send genuine threats that they mean to follow up via these media.

        In that case, what happens when something bad happens and a member of staff at the site says "yes, we did get a warning, but it was only an email, so we assumed it was a joke?"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          at no point

          At no point has this been presented as a "prank" simply someone talking to people on their twitter account. From what I've read to date at least.

          It wasn't a prank, it was someone blowing off steam to his mates.

          I'm quite sure if we all had a mike attached and on 24/7, our every internet and written communication interregated by those of an authoritive bent, we would all fall foul of these laws.

          If he didn't use a # tag or a @ tag then it should never have gone beyond his own circle of friends in reality.

          This is part of the reason people don't particularly like the idea of having microphones attached to cctv.

    4. Stevie Silver badge

      Bah!

      O Reilly? In NY you have to be somewhere and to use a technique in which there is "a reasonable expectation of privacy" before your "private chat" rule would work. Example: Speaking to someone in your own home, yes. Yelling into a cell phone on the train: no. Trad letter: yes. E-mail: no.

      Here it would seem your twitchat is covered by the e-mail precedent.

      But I isn't a judge or a lawyer.

    5. I didn't do IT.
      Happy

      Re: Inconveniencing...

      Wow, you must have a nice one. Emails from my boss are more along the lines of "menacing, ... or causing needless anxiety."

    6. Gulfie
      WTF?

      With respect to the first case...

      I do find it odd that a private conversation (regardless of medium) could potentially cause this kind of action against any of the contributors to that conversation if no party to that conversation has instigated a complaint, and no party to that conversation has published it.

      If the log of a chat has appeared online then the owner of the domain where it appeared or the individual that pubished the log may I guess have committed a crime in publishing something that contravened the act.

      But how does jurisdiction apply? Do the publisher and domain server both need to be UK based? Is it sufficient for only one to be UK based? If a UK national publishes to a (say) Japanese server from a computer in Switzerland, can the UK authorities pursue a case?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @but if it were real?

        The whole "what if it were real" excuse is just smoke.

        The whole point of "intelligence" is that they are supposed to discern credible threats from not creadible threats.

        It the "intelligence services" are incapable of discerning between someone blowing off steam and a credible terrorist threat I think we have a serious security problem in this country.

        You have a situation at the moment where a father can tell the authorities he thinks his son is unstable and a threat to security (re pants bomber) that is ignored and a man blowing off steam to his mate twitter who is fined and shall forever find international travel very very hard.

        A "what if" approach to safety is no different from a "think of the children" or a "nothing to hide" approach.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    IRC

    It'll be hard to try to monitor or prevent use of IRC for general chat of any kind. Very, very few IRCDs monitor and log all the text that passes across them - typically networks will have a log of connections, disconnections and Services use and an IRCD error log and that's about it. Public channels are very rarely logged, private messages pretty much never.

    So you could tell from that that someone was online, but wouldn't be able to verify what they were actually saying - and given that it then becomes a case of the accused vs. the accuser, where the logs are freely editable text files, it all starts to break down a bit.

    Still, our legal bloke's been putting some new words on the motd, just in case...

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. dogged
    Black Helicopters

    Hold on...

    "grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing, annoying, inconveniencing or causing needless anxiety"

    How come Paul Dacre is still at large?

  9. Ian 45

    How

    How did the police know about it? Worrying if they are actively looking around the internet for this as it is one small step from the Stasi.

    I think the simple rule is encrypt everything....

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where's the argument?

    "The legal principle at stake here is whether internet chat constitutes "publication" in the ordinary sense of the word, or can be treated as private conversation."

    Surely that would depend on whether the user would reasonably expect that the conversation be kept private. If the T&Cs of the service used state that the conversation will remain private then it would appear that the user would expect that the conversation was private and therefore would not constitute publishing. If, however, the T&Cs state that the conversation may be visible to others or that it would be logged fpr later viewing then I don't think it would be reasonable for the user to expect the conversation to be private. Therefore it would be reasonable call it publishing. Have you checked the T&Cs of the chat network you use to see what they have to say about the privacy of your conversations?

    "The key issue here is that District Judge, Jonathan Bennett, in ruling that this tweet fell foul of section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, seems to have interpreted that law as meaning that whether or not a text or message is construed as threatening will depend not on the intent of the sender – but on how that message is viewed by its recipient."

    Which is the way most such laws work. Well almost. It's whether the recipient might reasonably construe the text to be threatening - it's the word reasonable that often causes a lot of debate since it's very difficult to measure what is "reasonable" and what is not. Is Twatter a public communications neywork? Of course it is. It's a communications network, it's publicly accesible. What's contentious about that? Therefore if you send a threatening message you are using a public communications network to send that message, whether or not it is reasonable for somebody reading that message to consider it threatening is the only matter open to discussion.

    1. Dave 120
      Black Helicopters

      Farewell "intent" we hardly knew ye

      The offences of threats to kill and threats to cause criminal damage both require intent on behalf of the person making the threat that it will be believed.

      This puts a very heavy burden on any prosecution, it can be very difficult to prove that when someone made a threat they intended the person to believe them. But that's as it should be, it should be more difficult to prove someone is guilty than for them to prove they're innocent.

      If I tweet "If I get hassled by one more flower seller I'm going to beat them to death with my ipad" that's completely different from tweeting "On my way to Jane Fay's house to kill her". One is probably hyperbole the other a sinister threat. Probably.

      Removing the element of intent from offences, a current fashion it seems, makes it all too easy for stupid and or pedantic people to over-zealously prosecute people who, lets face it, have done no real harm.

    2. bothwell

      not just dacre

      More worryingly if "annoying" is a jailable offence then why is anybody still allowed to even use Twitter at all? They're _all_ annoying!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @bothwell

        >They're _all_ annoying!

        Is that self incriminating?

        They don't bother me one bit as I've never so much as looked at the twitter home page. If you find them so annoying then I suggest you stop reading them.

    3. Tom Chiverton 1

      Woot

      Great, let's sue all the spammers.

    4. Jane Fae

      NOT how the law works

      AC said:

      "The key issue here is that District Judge, Jonathan Bennett, in ruling that this tweet fell foul of section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, seems to have interpreted that law as meaning that whether or not a text or message is construed as threatening will depend not on the intent of the sender – but on how that message is viewed by its recipient."

      Which is the way most such laws work. Well almost. It's whether the recipient might reasonably construe the text to be threatening - it's the word reasonable that often causes a lot of debate since it's very difficult to measure what is "reasonable" and what is not.

      My reply:

      er, no. That is certainly NOT how most laws work. Historically, there has been either an explicit requirement to show intent or an implicit requirement for same. Offences where intent is absent have, hitherto, been rare in the criminal sphere - although under New Labour, they have burgeoned.

      Why? Presumably because it is harder to convict.

      The issue i have with this is that CRIMINAL behaviour is something we put in a special category, with special courts and its own set of punishments. For someone to be found criminal, we have historically required not merely that the Law show that they did somehting bad, nasty, annoying or whatever - but that they did so INTENDING the consequence.

      I would not be unhappy for a new legal category to evolve...somewhere between a tort and a crime, that acknowledges that someone, by their carelessness or lack of thought caused badness to happen: i do not like the idea of this category gradually replacing the historic view of what is "criminal""

    5. Gulfie

      As a balanced outsider...

      ... I read the tweet as published to simply be a man letting off steam because the airport was closed. Context is everything and I think this prosecution is a complete waste of time and money over what is clearly a throwaway line.

      The place NOT to make bomb jokes is in the airport itself, where the context is entirely different and overhearing a fragment of a joke could cause a degree of panic, to put it mildly.

  11. Cameron Colley

    Wow, no change here then.

    The United People's Democratic Republic of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is still a police state.

    So glad I'm planning on leaving this pathetic little island I used to love.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Private v public communications

    For me the difference between Twatter and say MSN/ICQ (IM). etc is simple. I expect my IM chats to be Private - I don't "conference" stuff on MSN in group chats for example and have a reasonable expectation of privacy given the one to one nature of the conversation, whereas (as I understand it) Twatter is more akin to a group conversation where anyone with the right permissions can view your words without interacting with you and has no real expectation of privacy attached to it (one reason I don't do Twatter or any other over hyped social networking B/S.

    It seems clear that the control freaks than now infest our Police forces/CPS clearly need to be reminded that there are greater issues to deal with beyond a private conversation between 2 consenting adults. This may be one for the human rights lawyers to ponder.

    Jeeze the Stasi would be proud of this lot!

  13. Mickey Porkpies
    Coat

    The twits can't twitter then

    if it is illegal to tweet anything that will be seen as "grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing, annoying, inconveniencing or causing needless anxiety" then pretty much anything an MP or other politician says falls foul of this!!

    Makes a change then given all the freedoms signed away by the last government....

  14. Steven Jones

    Criminal offenses etc.

    @AC

    1) you are incorrect - most serious criminal offenses require "mens rea" or a "guilty mind". That is intent. Note that can include recklessness in some circumstances plus some where a reasonable person might expect an action to lead to a more serious crime (for instance, a serious assault could be turned into a murder charge even if the intent wasn't to kill - but there still has to be an intent to do something bad). There are "strict liability" offenses where intent is not require (like many driving offenses), but with very few exceptions these do not get you a criminal record (possession of a gun being one of the few). Note that, in general, Statute Law has to explicitly state an offense is strict liability.

    2) the message was sent to Paul Chambers followers as a joke - none of the recipients took it seriously, and indeed the airport that picked it up on a Twitter search considered it "non credible". If the Airport considered it to be non-credible, then how could it be considered to be a menace when clearly nobody took it that way including the potential target

    3) there is an appropriate charge which quite rightly applies to those who do make a hoax bomb call. Indeed Paul Chambers was arrested on that very charge but the CPS rapidly worked out they stood not a chance in hell of a conviction (as the relevant statute specifically states intent). Instead, the CPS decided to use an old piece of legislation which was aimed at prosecuting those who were making somebody's life hell over the telephone network through malicious, threatening or obscene messages. This legislation was drafted long before the Internet, and might arguably apply to somebody intentionally sending threats via email but surely not to a joke in questionable taste which no reasonable person would understand to be menacing. How many people on Twitter have said they want to murder their boss as a joke?

    4) the CPS are required to prosecute only where it is in the public interest. I fail to see how it is in the public interest to go around prosecuting random tellers of bad taste jokes.

    Note that this is not a small thing for Paul Chambers. In this time of paranoia and CRB checks he will have trouble getting employment in many areas, he's already lost his post as a trainee accountant. All this for a questionable joke which would in the vast majority of cases passed everybody by and nobody would have been any the wiser. If nothing else, it is the sheet arbitrary nature of this. If you doubt it, go do some searches on Twitter for threatening words. There are plenty of people out to kill David Cameron, Gordon Brown or almost any other public figure you care to name. All, one trusts, in jest.

    This could have been dealt with by warning Paul Chambers not to be so stupid in future and, if there was any real cost to the airport, seeking damages if relevant. As it is, this means that many, many people prone to the odd impetuous posting are in danger of gaining a criminal conviction.

    1. Captain Save-a-ho
      Pint

      Best post ever

      Fantastic post. Glad to see reason isn't dead.

    2. Mark 65 Silver badge

      Re:

      On the subject of item 3, the actual charge for which he was convicted, doesn't the law in question read as if it was intended to be applied to a sentient being rather than an inanimate object hence explaining most of the uproar i.e. inappropriate use of the law?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting question, really

    Where ends ``private'', where does ``public'' start?

    IRC isn't much like blogs at all, contrary to twitter. Rather, it's more like a bunch of people hanging out, sipping something and occasionally having some conversation. If I join a bunch of acquintances and do that in a club, do I ``publish'' anything? And what if I do it in a pub? After all, eavesdropping on a roundtable you're not invited to is a bit rude.

    This notwithstanding that the ``extreme porn'' thing, nevermind the rest of the ``think of the children'' knee-jerkery, is Bad Law writ large. And clearly, the plod and the cps are having far too much fun with it. Apparently nothing better to do. Carry on government.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Grenade

    This might lead to a better class of conspiracies

    Fine, good. Let them monitor every little word that anyone sends electronically. This will clear the way for real conspiracies.

    Let's face it. The Internet, Twitter, etc have been acting as safety valves. Feeling a bit annoyed about your council's policies? Sound off on the net, put something up on Facebook, say something nasty on your blog and, having got that off your chest, go back to putting up with it.

    But if they watch every word, then fine, without the safety valve someone might let it all build up until he *acts*, that is, actually does something. Maybe, in the privacy of his own home, he might even get together with others who will actually *do something*. All he has to do is talk to someone, face to face, that is, go *low tech* and he's away.

    And the great thing is that the 'powers that be' will be too busy watching electronic communications to notice. All their manpower will be sitting in front of a screen, where it's comfy and they can have a cup of coffee beside them, instead of going out and sulking in the shadows.

    So don't worry, just go low tech. It's what the authorities are begging you to do.

    Anonymous for obvious reasons.

  17. Richard Jukes

    I'll give you a tittle missy...a good tittling is just what you need...

    Twitter, facebook, myspace, forums etc are publishing. IRC and MSN or peer to peer chats are not publishing. The end. I'll have my £300 million pound consultancy fee now please. Idiots.

  18. VinceH Silver badge
    FAIL

    Letters. Digits.

    "The legal principle at stake here is whether internet chat constitutes "publication" in the ordinary sense of the word, or can be treated as private conversation."

    Clearly not. As you've reported in this very article, the prosecution, if it goes ahead, is against one of the two participants in the conversation - and it's not because he had the conversation (otherwise both participants would be in the dock), but because he published the log of it.

    So, the legal principle at stake isn't whether having internet chat amounts to publication, but whether publishing a log of that chat amounts to publication. Which it does, by definition.

  19. Richard Porter
    WTF?

    Annoying?

    So presumably the act covers spam, messages from companies that you can't reply to, html-only messages, top posting, lengthy confidentiality statements, etc., etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      @VinceH

      Oh the irony of the fail icon against your 'educated' comment.

      I stand to be corrected, but it seems clear to me from this and the previous report that the question at hand is EXACTLY whether a private conversation can be covered under the OPA, and nothing to do with real publishing at all. I certainly trust the author's take more than yours given your laughable comment about both participants being in the dock.

      Did it ever occur to you that the other participant in an irc chat is more than likely to be outside the UK, and that even though the UK police would like to, they do not (as yet) rule the world to the extent that they can drag an American or Russian citizen over here for having a 'mucky chat'.

      Are you really a numpty? or are you maybe a police/CPS plant trying to mask what a bunch of t*ssers they are making themselves look even bringing this case to court?

      1. VinceH Silver badge
        FAIL

        @AC

        I suppose it's a case of how you interpret this:

        "Kent Police are in the process of using the Obscene Publications Act as a means to prosecute an individual, Gavin Smith, of Swanscombe for publishing obscenity in respect of a log of a private online chat he had with another individual."

        I originally read "publishing an obscenity in respect of a log of a private online chat" with the word 'log' as the important one: the thing that was published.

        However, I've since read a related report elsewhere, and I take it back. It does appear that the log itself wasn't published, but may actually have been found during a search of his hard drive. The other charges against him may well be valid, but it seems to me that this specific charge is a case of "What else can we get him with while we're at it?"

        And no, I'm not a "numpty", I'm just someone who interpreted the words on the page differently to you. Get over yourself.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @VinceH

          Apologies if I seemed a bit abrupt, but I''ve had personal experience of the Police/CPS getting away with bringing stupid charges.

          They get away with it because the general public assume the 'no smoke without fire' principle and that the CPS would never bother pursuing someone unless there was more to it - sadly that is often not the case as other people have stated.

          What we need are a few more Judge John Deeds to throw them in the cells for contempt which is what they often seem to show the system...

  20. Ben Cooper
    Flame

    Been there...

    I was charged with Breach of the Peace for publishing pictures online - nothing risque, it was a BAE Systems location. There were even suggestions of terrorism-related charges. So I've been there - the extra catch is, in Scotland, the definition of BoP includes the word "annoyance". I annoyed BAE Systems, so the police charged me.

    The charges were later dropped, but it was quite worrying for a few months.

    These are the pictures that got me in trouble:

    http://www.catchingphotons.co.uk/blog/?p=174

  21. kain preacher Silver badge

    alt.com

    alt is an adult web sit dedicated to BDSM and alternative live styles . They have chat rooms talking about whipping and flowing people. Pony girls and the like . Some folks talk about scat and water sports there. Correct me if I'm wrong but it sounds like if some one from the UK were to wander into one of these chat rooms they could be done in by a prude of a cop . That is if they were to participate in the discussion.

  22. Doshu

    original title rejected (why-oh-why?)

    It was inevitable that a time would come when all these new means of communication would be subject to regulation. The west was wild and for a time it was good. But in the end the rule of law was imposed and things moved on.

    I think one of the main drawbacks here is that the internet's time came at a moment in our history (brief though it may be) when worldwide political and economical uncertainty pushed such politics too far to the right.

    Should we be concerned? Yes, i think so. Is this the end of history? I somehow doubt it.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    OMFG - Needless Anxiety

    Never mind, back on my meds....

  24. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I was persuaded to install a chat client just before Xmas and did a bit of lurking in chatrooms with supposed innocent content. Every last one was overrun with automated bots spewing x-rated garbage.

    Person to person chat may or may not be "publishing" but from what I saw the communal chat thing could do with a good going over with a flamethrower, preferably the one with sulphuric acid mixed with the napalm.

    What a waste of resources.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    You fail to understand...

    ...what a marvellous weapon this will be against politicians. Let the judge have his day, then dismantle Parliament with his ruling. Raise taxes? Annoying. Lower taxes? Insulting. Promising <whatever>? I feel threatened already... That should get the law changed in a jiffy. Or Parliament in prison. Either way, you win.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    another case of micro-surveillence catching nobody in particular.

    Your average chatter will be surveilled, whilst the true wrong'uns will be chatting over their encrypted vpn.

  27. I didn't do IT.
    Big Brother

    Orly?

    "..., but on how that message is viewed by its recipient."

    So, to ensure that everyone who reads a text (without any visual context, verbal clues, or other converstaional or oratorical queues), all you have to do is put the ubiquitous "j/k" at the end of everything so that readers are therefore not able to "reasonably" interpret it as a "real" threat.

    I somehow don't think that will work, but is an appropriate level response to this malarky.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Grenade

    So if you were to type this...

    THERE seems to be no sense at all in today's judiciary. What IS the matter with them? When will they give us A break? So now we can't even use the word BOMB without causing internet-terrorism fear?

    IN case you missed it, you could get nicked for mouthing off about the crappy council while down at YOUR local pub!

    It's enough to make one go the the AIRPORT and get the hell out of here.

    damn capslock.

  29. ShaggyDoggy

    Private vs public

    Twitter is public.

    Blogs are public.

    Facebook is public.

    IRC etc is private, more akin to a phone conversation in text mode.

    I do hope the judge realises this.

    Oh, wait ...

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Police are the Masters, Not the Servants

    To quote a paragraph from The Register article 'The Obscene Publications Act Rides Again' 2 years ago:

    “During the consultation phase for the new extreme porn law, Kent Police opined that it did not go far enough and that it ought to include strictures on the possession of written material as well.”

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/10/06/obscene_publication_girls_aloud/

    It would seem that having failed in this regard that the Kent police are trying to get this passed into law via means other than parliament. For such an important case it is receiving little media attention, though this website has more details:

    http://www.kentnews.co.uk/kent-news/Private-web-chat-leads-to-%E2%80%98radical%E2%80%99-obscenity-case-newsinkent35807.aspx

    It appears that it is being bundled up with other charges in the way previous cases have been. Worryingly the conversation was apparently recovered when forensic officers searched the man's hard drive (so it might not be a published conversation in the general accepted sense).

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Steven Jones

    "Note that this is not a small thing for Paul Chambers. In this time of paranoia and CRB checks he will have trouble getting employment in many areas, he's already lost his post as a trainee accountant. All this for a questionable joke"

    You say potAYto, I say PotAHtoe. You say joke I say bomb threat. Normal people don't go around threatening to blow things up, and when they do as jokes they use more joking terms like "someone should blow them the fuck up" or "the service would be better if they were a pile of glowing radioactive slag"

    not "You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!"

    "which would in the vast majority of cases passed everybody by and nobody would have been any the wiser."

    But they were, so your point is moot. Were no-one the wiser no-one would know - but they were, so they did.

    What he tweeted was fairly public, I see no real difference in tweeting that or stating it out loud in the airport itself - and if he did the latter no-one rational would be complaining when he gets arrested and charged.

    " If nothing else, it is the sheet arbitrary nature of this. If you doubt it, go do some searches on Twitter for threatening words. There are plenty of people out to kill David Cameron, Gordon Brown or almost any other public figure you care to name. All, one trusts, in jest."

    Being a politician must enhance the likelihood of being a target of serious and non-serious threats. Most of which will be non-serious, however anyone standing for office (and especially office at that level) should expect this sort of thing. One suspects the coterie of special branch "new friends" offsets that somewhat. There is a big difference here.

    The man was stupid, I agree, but he was maliciously stupid, the consequences of his actions could have been very serious - from disruption to other passengers and airport workers through to diluting the seriousness in which bomb threats / reports are taken (in case it has passed you by there are people out there who want to blow up airports - just Google Glasgow Airport and you will see).

    It is about time people manned the fuck up and took responsibility for their actions.

    1. Rob 9

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      >>>>You say potAYto, I say PotAHtoe. You say joke I say bomb threat. Normal people don't go around threatening to blow things up, and when they do as jokes they use more joking terms like "someone should blow them the fuck up" or "the service would be better if they were a pile of glowing radioactive slag"

      So how is that any different to what he actually said??

      I would actually read "someone should blow them the fuck up" as more threatening than what he actually said.... I reckon you've got about a week before the police turn up on your doorstep and arrest you for incitement...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Grenade

      Looks like you're doing the threat thing yourself..

      I'm going to interpret your "It is about time people manned the fuck up" as a serious threat against people of a non-male persuasion and report you to the Kent rozzers. Hopefully you'll get a chance to see just how green that particular grass is.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Intent? Nah.

    I was a witness in a case where a prosecution was brought under good old section 5 of the public order act. Basically the accused was mouthing off at a railway guard because a train had been cancelled. I think the charge sheet read something like "using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress." In the end the accused entered a guilty plea so my services as a witness were not required, however the whole crux of the case was whether his words and behaviour were "threatening, abusive or insulting" and whether they were likely to cause "harassment, alarm or distress". There was no mention at all of whether he intended to cause "harassment, alarm or distress" but whether the words were *likely* to cause any or all of those reactions. And quite right too.

    At the time he was adamant that he had done nothing wrong, saying that he "didn't mean to scare her". And that makes it alright does it?

    In the case of the allegedly threatening tweet the airport are required by law to report all threats, credible or otherwise, to the police. The police would then prepare a file for the CPS.

    Was proof intent necessary? Had this idiot not decided to plead guilty in the first place I doubt he would have been convicted. Had he decided to plead not guilty it's a pound to a pinch of shit that the CPS would have decided not to prosecute. He admitted his guilt straight away then changed his mind much later. Obviously that would have some bearing on the CPS' decision to prosecute. A plea of guilty, even if changed later would imply that the accused thought what they did was wrong. The change of plea is a matter of record and therefore admissable in evidence in court. So I wouldn't doubt for a minute that this had some bearing on the case.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Saw it coming.

    I see an issue, 10 people in a chat room talking about what they want to do to eachother, consenting adults, all happy to be there and talking about fantasies and what they want to do.

    Then a noob walks in, accident or looking. Is shocked, complains and suddenly 10 people all consenting to what they want to do, are arrested and charged because of one numpties accident.

    Another dark day for this so called country. Add in that hte new cabinet has an equality minister that wants to ban page 3 (and is allegedly homophobic if facebook groups are to be believed) and you can see another dark dary on the horizon. First page 3, then FHM, then Nuts, zoo etc, etc.

    What happened to people just doing what they want as long as it didn't hurt anyone else and were consenting about it.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
      Boffin

      @ AC 11:15

      "What happened to people just doing what they want as long as it didn't hurt anyone else and were consenting about it." Have a look at the case of R. v Brown (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_v_Brown is a good overview). Acts taking place that no-one had complained about, but a video of their jollies, made for the delectation of those involved, was found by police involved in a completely separate investigation. They were found guilty because you can only consent to certain types of harm (surgery, sports (with boxing being specifically mentioned), and body piercing and tattooing). Being whipped around the family jewels with nettles is not included. Basically, the concept of consent is a farce, as is privacy.

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