back to article Police chief wants citizens to bring 'net oligarchs to heel

One of England's top police officers, Shaun Sawyer, wants citizens to go after internet giants that have wronged them. Sawyer, who is chief constable in Devon and Cornwall and is national lead for human trafficking and modern slavery, made the suggestion in an interview with The Sunday Times, published over the weekend. In a …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actually

    The Internet has a better record of uncovering Crime and Wrongdoing than PC Plod's and also has the advantage that it can route around apron strings.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Actually

      Uncovering != Any result from it.

      Sure. For example Internet publications have dug up and cross referenced the facts to show that Boris and Lavrov are competing for the title of Pinocchio of the year. The first places to take BOTH of them to the cleaners for lying were Internet publications.

      Does it matter? F*ck no. As they say in several countries around the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea: "The dogs continue barking. So what, the caravan continues to move regardless".

      As correctly noted by a lot of people we live in the days of post truth. Even if someone digs out the truth, a few weeks of feeding edited info to everyone using the appropriate confirmation bias and voila - like it did not happen. From a tool of discovering and reporting the truth despite the best efforts of the power to be the Internet and especially the so called "social" part of it has become a tool for post-truth delivery.

      By the way, as far as preposterous ideas, suing privately an Internet platform in a civil lawsuit should win the "delusional suggestion of the year" award.

    2. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Actually

      The Internet has a better record of uncovering Crime and Wrongdoing than PC Plod's

      You mean like misidentifying the Boston Bomber?

  2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    UK Laws are the problem

    Where, if you lose then you may well find that YOU are having to pay the other sides legal fees as well as your own.

    In the home of 'sue first (or fire, whichever is appropriate) and ask questions later' this does not apply.

    It is much easier for an individual to file suit against a megacorp.

    My advice (IANAL) is that before you file suit in the UK, you pay your legal team upfront and then declare yourself bankrupt just in case you lose. If you don't have any assets and that includes your home then you can't be made to pay the other side. Although, one judge in the USA made the losing sides attourneys pay the winning sides costs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: UK Laws are the problem

      My advice (IANAL) is that before you file suit in the UK

      IANAL too, but I have had to deal with various legal sh*t for many years because it has become unavoidable part of doing business on the Internet.

      Do not file the suit yourself. Create a limited company, transfer the subject of the lawsuit to the company in lieu of shares and order as a director the company to sue. You may also need to seed it with some initial capital to pay the lawyers as well.

      As long as you _CAN_ do that - if the "subject" is transferable, you are protected from being driven into bankruptcy by the resource disparity between you and your opponent.

      It is even better if you operate anything and everything via a shell limited company anyway and it owns all of your IPR, etc. The 200 quid a year spent on filing semi-dormant accounts and fees to company house are well worth the isolation this provides.

      Unfortunately most "Internet Giants" are well aware of this workaround so their T&Cs try to throw spanners in the works on this one. That, once again, can be worked around - you just get the extra hurdle of having to prove that the relevant clauses in the T&C fall foul of the contract legislation. Because they do :)

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: UK Laws are the problem

        "Create a limited company, transfer the subject of the lawsuit to the company in lieu of shares and order as a director the company to sue."

        Doesn't this then have the disadvantage of losing the protection of consumer legislation which might have applied otherwise?

    2. nijam Silver badge

      Re: UK Laws are the problem

      > ... if you lose then you may well find that YOU are having to pay the other sides legal fees as well as your own

      It's not entirely clear how that is wrong, in fact. The intent is to penalise mendacious lawsuits, which are rife in the USA (or so I've heard).

    3. Wade Burchette

      Re: UK Laws are the problem

      "UK Laws are the problem, where if you lose then you may well find that YOU are having to pay the other sides legal fees as well as your own. In the home of 'sue first (or fire, whichever is appropriate) and ask questions later' this does not apply."

      The solution is not an either-or. The loser having to pay the fine hurts the poor who cannot afford a loss to expensive lawyers. But in the American system, the rich can keep the lawsuit going almost indefinitely to bankrupt someone knowing they likely will not have to pay any fines. This is tactic that has been used with great success to silence opposition: You are rich and well-funded, but someone says something that you do not like. So you sue for libel and you and your expensive lawyers do whatever you can to drag out the lawsuit just so the person you are suing will not have any money left. The longer you can keep it from actually going to trial, the better. The purpose is not to win, but to make the other side lose (which may or may not also include silencing them).

      The solution is a middle-of-the-road approach.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: UK Laws are the problem

      "Where, if you lose then you may well find that YOU are having to pay the other sides legal fees as well as your own."

      Not if the damages fall within the small claims limits. BigCo then has to decide whether to throw lawyers at the case or pay the claim which is probably going to be the cheaper option. They may, of course, choose the former to avoid opening the floodgates.

  3. MonkeyCee Silver badge

    Civil laws

    Don't get why plod needs the plebs to do the suing. Plod is quite happy using civil courts to get their way when it comes to it. Civil asset forfeiture occurs in the UK as well, although they are a bit more sensible with it. Generally reserved for people who've actually been convicted of something first.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Civil laws

      If he's consistent with his previous position, then because Plod just doesn't have the resources. Remember the British Police have been cut to the point where we don't have enough officers to attend murders.

      I haven't read the article yet so don't know if this is his argument, but there are some things the Police can't do. Like request your Facebook history without a lot of approval, which takes time and effort. In most cases Facebook will have deleted the data before all the legal hoops have been jumped through.

      You as an individual can request that data much more simply by making a subject access request.

      1. nijam Silver badge

        Re: Civil laws

        > ... Plod just doesn't have the resources

        They seem to have plenty of resources for lots of things that don't matter very much.

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: Civil laws

          "They seem to have plenty of resources for lots of things that don't matter very much"

          Are you Theresa May, Tom Winsor or Amber Rudd?

          So many that you seem unable to come up with any examples! There's bound to be some badly reported Daily Mail headline and quite probably a one in a million genuine case, but for the most part our police are hugely under resourced. Apparently there's a report on it that the Home Office are suppressing so that Amber Rudd can pretend everything's fine.

          1. rh587

            Re: Civil laws

            So many that you seem unable to come up with any examples! There's bound to be some badly reported Daily Mail headline and quite probably a one in a million genuine case, but for the most part our police are hugely under resourced.

            Obviously there's the easy go to of the Robin Hood Airport Case. What everyone wrote off as a joke, South Yorkshire Police thought was worth pursuing, and it went all the way to the High Court before some common sense prevailed. How many thousand hours of Police/CPS time went into that?

            But maybe that's the 1/million case.

            Of course we then have to look at the multiple rape cases that have fallen apart since December because the Police did not disclose all relevant information to the CPS, who then pursued flaky prosecutions which were summarily shredded by the defence. How many hundreds - nay thousands - of hours (at what £?) were pissed up the wall by CPS Lawyers over the past 2-3 years working up cases against innocent individuals who should never have set foot in a court room, much less spent years on bail?

            As someone who holds a Firearms Certificate, I have yet to renew my ticket and not have to send it back for correction. They could halve their stationary and postage costs (not to mention the labour resource) if they took the time to get it right on the first attempt! It's invariably stupid things like the Licensing Manager has signed the Certificate in the box where I am supposed to sign it. Entirely avoidable, and causes their plaintive cries of needing more money to ring a little hollow (especially as their counterparts in other Force Areas provide a superb service).

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Civil laws

              "Obviously there's the easy go to of the Robin Hood Airport Case. What everyone wrote off as a joke, South Yorkshire Police thought was worth pursuing"

              And yes, every bomb threat can be written off as a joke. Right up to the time when one isn't and then everyone from the Grauniad to the Fail will come down on the police like a ton of bricks for not taking it seriously.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Civil laws

            @Adam52 you want another example?

            Julian Assange. How many millions have been wasted on that bail jumper?

            Yeah, plod needs all the coppers he can get :/

        2. handleoclast Silver badge

          Re: Civil laws

          The last time I mentioned something like this, I got more downvotes than upvotes. But I'm a persistent bastard...

          They seem to have plenty of resources for lots of things that don't matter very much.

          Actually, those things matter a great deal. They really do.

          Those are the things that count towards performance targets and are easy to achieve. It really is that simple.

          Figuring out who committed a burglary and proving it is a lot of work and your chances of succeeding are small. Not much chance of improving your arrest and/or conviction count.

          Arresting somebody on littering charges for dropping a fag end and stamping it out is easy.

          If you were in the police and your only hope of a pay rise was hitting your performance targets, would you go for the easy ones or the hard ones?

          The performance targets are badly flawed. If we were sensible, we wouldn't put such a high emphasis on arrests, and we'd put a far higher emphasis on reduction in reported crime. Except, of course, that would encourage the front desk to tell people to piss off. Even so, the aim should be to get crime rates down, not arrest rates up. Probably hard to get right, just as the current situation encourages lots of arrests for trivial offences.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Civil laws

            "The performance targets are badly flawed."

            This is almost always the case with performance targets.

            Firstly, they have a great tendency to be inappropriate. Measuring things properly is hard. That means looking for something easy to measure even if it's not a big issue and ignoring the hard to measure relevant target.

            Secondly, it sets up a system just asking to be gamed.

            1. Adam 52 Silver badge

              Re: Civil laws

              I've read the article in The Times now. He's making two points, both badly reported by El Reg. Quite possibly misrepresented by The Times too.

              The second is that, under Human Rights law individuals have a right to Life and organisations have an obligate duty to protect that right (this is new law, made by the judiciary in the Warboys case). Therefore web sites that knowingly or negligent facilitate murder can be held liable for deaths they contribute too.

              That's not something the Police can do - they can only investigate crime and recommend CPS prosecute. Corporate manslaughter would be impossible to prove (and the fine would be trivial).

              One would imagine that the same argument applies to other Human Rights in his realm, such as the prohibition of torture and slavery.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Civil laws

            "Arresting somebody on littering charges for dropping a fag end and stamping it out is easy."

            You'd think that crimes would be split into categories and scored appropriately such that one murder solved equals three violent robbers and each violent robbery equals 30 littering offence so getting a high score is best achieved by going for all different value targets based on resources and skill sets. Or would that be to simplistic and sensible.

            1. GIRZiM

              Re: You'd think that crimes would be split into categories and scored appropriately

              Yeah, except that, unless the perp voluntarily hands themself in, or at least says, when collared, "It's a fair cop, guv'nor. Put the bracelets on. You got me bang to rights. Where do I sign me confession?", it's frequently still much quicker and easier to clear up (no pun intended) thirty littering cases than one murder.

  4. Peb

    As always

    When I read these articles that demonise the big internet companies and accuse them of being beihind everything from London crime to sex workers with always the same solution, I.e sue them into compliance, I wonder if there could be a point when they say “you know what guys, we are a free service that only makes money from advertising, but that provides an income X, but now we might be fined X squared because Sharon said something bad about Tracy and it’s not worth doing business in the u.k. So enjoy life without us!”

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: As always

      I see your point, Facebook is only making $4bn a year. Hardly worth the effort.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Facebook is only making $4bn a year

        So... Sue Google

        and when that fails, then there is everyones favourite to file suit against...

        (cr)Apple

        just because everyone else seems to be suing the crap out of them.

        Filing suit against Apple is what is going to MAGA.

        /s

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Facebook is only making $4bn a year

          "Filing suit against Apple is what is going to MAGA."

          I sometimes get the feeling some commenter's here are stuck in the IT box and can't see the world outside.

          Only Apple are in the top 10 companies by revenue in the world. Samsung make it two tech companies in the top 20 and Samsung are more than just a tech company. We need to get into the top 30 before we see Amazon and Foxconn. There are plenty of big, rich companies out there that affect millions of lives, but most are not in your face.

        2. GIRZiM

          Re: Filing suit against Apple is what is going to MAGA

          Everyone should file suit against CrApple on principle.

          it should be something we put in our calendars with a monthly alert "First of the month - sue CrApple".

    2. GIRZiM
      Devil

      Re: enjoy life without us

      I did, for many many years, before Failbook and the like came along - I spent my time in the company of my friends rather than home, alone, writing pointless replies to people on antisocial networking sites ; D

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why should it be down to the public to rectify platforms that allow illegal activity? I see where it's coming from in that if they get sued it will force them to make changes but isn't that what governments are supposed to do?

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "if someone is a victim of an “Internet-enabled crime”, they should sue the platform involved"

    I can see that working well for phishing e-mails.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "I can see that working well for phishing e-mails"

      IMHO, it is about time that companies who publish an email address for reporting 'phishing' emails are sued when those email addresses don't work. It is almost as if they don't want to fight the phishers.

      Hey Lloyds Bank, I'm looking at you.

      {they are not alone in that. Far from it.}

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "if someone is a victim of an “Internet-enabled crime”, they should sue the platform involved"

      "I can see that working well for phishing e-mails."

      Exactly!

      Have you ever tried to have a malicious or fraudulent site taken down from Cloudfront or tried in vain to report a malicious or fraudulent app on the Google Play store?

      An exercise in futility is an understatement.

  7. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    What's all this, then?

  8. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Stop

    Not really dispelling the idea that generally the police are a little dim ..

    is he ?

    Why not sue the Highways agencies, for enabling criminals to move around ?

    Or Southern Rail for the same (no, scratch that).

    I really don't want criminal law to become "we'll charge the people we can catch" rather than "we'll charge the people responsible"

    1. MrXavia

      Re: Not really dispelling the idea that generally the police are a little dim ..

      Can I sue the highways agency for the excess wear to my car caused by the terrible roads?

    2. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: Not really dispelling the idea that generally the police are a little dim ..

      @JimmyPage - nicely put. With or without the extra dig at Southern Rail.

      I saw the article headline and thought for a glorious moment I was being encouraged by the region's chief cop to go after Virgin Media. But no such thing: just another bit of irrelevant nonsense.

      1. GIRZiM
        Go

        Re: irrelevant nonsense

        > I saw [...] thought for a glorious moment I was being encouraged [...] to go after Virgin Media.

        I know the feeling all too well *sigh*

    3. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Not really dispelling the idea that generally the police are a little dim ..

      "Why not sue the Highways agencies, for enabling criminals to move around ?"

      In the past the Highways Agency had no idea who were using their roads, so they couldn't really help much. Now they have ANPR and can, and do, supply ANPR information to the Police. Murderers have been caught using ANPR.

      Similarly the big Internet giants have analytics. They can, it is argued, identify fraudsters and quite probably patterns associated with criminal activity like people trafficking. Following the human rights ruling earlier this year all organisations now have a duty to preserve human rights. So they have a duty to use their analytics to stop murders and trafficking.

      That's the argument. Shame El Reg didn't report properly. It holds together at first glance, whether it holds together in the face of Silicon Valley's best lawyers remains to be seen.

      1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

        Re: Not really dispelling the idea that generally the police are a little dim ..

        "year all organisations now have a duty to preserve human rights"

        Anyone pointed that out to our employers and government recently?

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: Not really dispelling the idea that generally the police are a little dim ..

          "Anyone pointed that out to our employers and government recently?"

          Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Mance and Lord Kerr on 21st February.

          1. Intractable Potsherd

            Re: Not really dispelling the idea that generally the police are a little dim ..

            @ Adam 52. No, they didn't. They simply reiterated the underlying feature of the HRA - that all *organs of the state* have a duty to uphold human rights. There is, and never has been, a duty on private individuals or bodies to have regard to human rights unless otherwise stated in specific legislation (e.g. equality Acts).

          2. Intractable Potsherd

            Re: Not really dispelling the idea that generally the police are a little dim ..

            In fact, despite having great respect for the judges who gave this judgment, especially Brenda Hale, I think they came to the wrong decision this time.* Hugely expanding the scope of the HRA is going to lead to more attempts to get rid of it, and perhaps all human rights protection. Indeed, the decision has the implications that human rights will be eroded as a direct result of it. Requiring the police to legally, rather than operationally, prioritise certain crimes will result in a greater number of offences against property being ignored, with only serious offences against the person being worthy of investigation. The tactics for investigating e.g. rape will become exceedingly heavy-handed (large numbers of men being pressured into giving DNA samples, for example - and we know how easy it is to get those removed from the database, don't we?) Looking outside the police, other investigatory bodies will now look for a human rights angle to justify action that is unpopular - I don't think it will be long before e.g. HMRC justify tax investigations using human rights).

            This is a piss-poor judgment that will reflect badly on the Supreme Court as a whole, the individual judges, and human rights in general. We will live to regret the decision.

            *I say this as a law lecturer with considerable experience of human rights teaching and research.

  9. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Well done mr policeman...

    "...if someone is a victim of an “Internet-enabled crime”, they should sue the platform involved."

    I see. So those people who have been a victim of the recent spate of terror incidents involving cars running into crowds should sue the car manufacturers, sales divisions and perhaps even rental companies involved for allowing them to become the victim of a "vehicle-enabled crime"?

    *slow clap*

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Well done mr policeman...

      Ship the plod over here and if we make him a Congresscritter he will personally double the total IQ of Congress. His idea may be dim but he is pointing out that may Silly Valley giants have not grasped the world is actually shades of grey not stark black and white. Abusing users, overtime, is not a good business practice as it leads to customer reaction eventually.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Well done mr policeman...

      "I see. So those people who have been a victim of the recent spate of terror incidents involving cars running into crowds should sue the car manufacturers, sales divisions and perhaps even rental companies involved for allowing them to become the victim of a "vehicle-enabled crime"?"

      Although you do make a very valid point which I wholeheartedly agree with, you have to remember that "big data" such as Google and Facebook have brought this on themselves by fostering the impression that they can track everybody, everywhere and sell that "accurate" information to the advertisers. So either they are lying to their paying customers when they say it's accurate or they are lying to government and law enforcement when they say they can track people and data all that well after all.

  10. Chronos Silver badge
    Facepalm

    This again?

    Their algorithms should be able to spot regular visitors, every contact leaves a trace, they have all the IP addresses.

    Isn't it about time these people were battered sensible with the clue-stick before engaging gob? That only works if you are both the server provider and the ISP. Then it only works if the machine that logs the visit and the DHCP server are using reasonably sane NTP settings.This does not take into account the hundreds of millions of people browsing behind carrier grade NAT on mobile networks and using the wireless hot-spots at KrocBurgers Inc.

    I haven't even mentioned TOR and VPN. I didn't have to, that's how utterly stupid this sound-bite is.

  11. martinusher Silver badge

    Human Trafficing Predates the Internet

    Human Trafficking isn't a new subject that appeared with the Internet, its as old as time (we used to call it 'slavery'). Combating it is an ongoing situation which, curiously enough, benefits from the communication, data collection and analysis capabilities of the Internet. So Mr. Plod's lost the plot.

    What you need to be careful of is in the article on backpage.com in another part of this site. Recent anti-trafficking laws in the US have had a curious side effect of closing down large parts -- or at least, visibly large parts, of the sex trade. Its almost as if the laws were actually intended to enforce that view of morality but were given the trafficking spin to sell them to the public.

  12. Roj Blake Silver badge

    To Use an Offline Example

    If ne'er-do-wells plotted some nefarious activities down a pub, would you be able to sue the landlord?

    If the answer is no, then why should social media companies be liable for what people do on their platforms?

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: To Use an Offline Example

      If the ne'er do wells plotted their activities in the pub *and* the landlord refused throw them out when notified and refused to supply the CCTV footage then you might. That's the point being made.

      A landlord doing that would likely have their licence removed (happened to a pub near work), but that option isn't available on the Internet.

  13. GrumpyKiwi Silver badge

    Yeah no

    So if Google/Faecesbook/et.Al. screw up, I get inappropiate ads for toenail fungus cures and other shyte.

    When the government screws up I can get ineptly run SWAT raids or (if they screw up badly enough) collateral damage from a Hellfire strike. Of the two, I know which one needs to be stomped harshly on and restricted first. (hint, it's not google or faecesbook).

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