UK Lawmakers Seeking Harsher Sentences For The Crime Of Being A Jerk Online

from the the-law-wasn't-BAD,-we-just-weren't-doing-it-HARD-enough! dept

The UK's Malicious Communications Act has served the country well in its aim to turn being a jerk into a criminal act. The Act debuted in 1988, in time to catch the internet in its developing period and criminalize behavior that was already covered by existing laws. (Except for the whole "on the internet" thing that makes lawmakers bust out their favorite markup pens.)

As it stands now, trolling (for lack of a better, shorter word) is punishable by up to 6 months in prison. For many of those on the receiving end of internet-delivered abuse, this apparently seems like it's too short to be effective. The Register notes that many of the act's proponents felt two particular individuals got off too lightly.

Perhaps the most notorious example was the one involving feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. Two people were later found guilty of sending menacing communications after Criado-Perez made a formal statement to police in July 2013 about being harassed online.

But the accused ended up only with short stays behind bars.
One received 8 weeks in prison and the other 12 weeks, both of which clearly fit under the six-month maximum sentence, but seemingly offered no satisfaction to the victim of their online activities. So, British lawmakers have decided to "fix" this broken law, but not by disassembling it and allowing existing laws to do their jobs. Instead, they've decided to push for longer sentences in hopes of deterring future bad behavior and to prevent others from taking 8-12 week "vacations" at the local lockup.
Ms Bray’s plan would give magistrates the ability to send such cases for trial at crown court, where the jail term given could be four times longer and there is more time to bring a case. The change will be discussed by a committee of MPs on Thursday and if approved will be added to laws to be voted on later this year.
This law isn't specifically a reaction to Criado-Perez's treatment, but rather an amalgamation of all those who have been wronged and, apparently, contacted their representatives about it. MP Angie Bray is being motivated by a constituent's statement that her daughter was "verbally raped" by an older man who sent thousands of obscene texts. Education Secretary Michael Gove spoke about several deaths attributed to cyberbullying in his support of the change.

The law's aim is, of course, noble: to stamp out abusive behavior online. Unfortunately, even the noblest laws have unintended consequences, like the punishment of the merely controversial, rather than true abuse. The law also seeks to exact proxy revenge for those who have been harmed, punishing people whose only crime was mere stupidity.

Lot of people say lots of things online, and not all of it is pleasant. Those championing these laws are seeking to guarantee their constituents the "right" to not be offended. But life's often an ugly place, populated by jerks. But being a jerk "on the internet" shouldn't be a criminal offense. The low bar of a communication possibly "causing distress" isn't high enough to prevent the law from being misused.

If the activities exceed simply being a jerk and move into something more dangerous, existing laws applying to stalking, harassment and making threats should be used rather than adding another layer of legislation over the top. The court of public opinion often weighs in heavily during outbursts of lousy online behavior, something that moves much faster than any court proceeding.

Addressing noxious behavior is fine, but applying a broadly-written law isn't. And expanding the length of imprisonment doesn't fix what's truly wrong with it -- it just makes the law worse.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 4:41am

    How about...

    We use this law to throw those lawmakers in prison for 6 to 8 weeks?

    They're being jerks and I'm only finding out about it online! They're breaking the law!

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 5:34am

    Don't show them Usenet circa 1984

    These wimps and cowards wouldn't have lasted a day.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 5:44am

    What about my rights?

    I have the right to offend someone, just as much as they have the right to not be offended. What about the things I find offensive, that maybe these people wouldn't? You know, things like constantly being monitored by an overzealous nanny-state?

     

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  4.  
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    DeadBolt (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 5:46am

    Re: Don't show them Usenet circa 1984

    Pfft... Give em 2 seconds on 4chan

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 5:49am

    Bunch of filthy slimy internets pirates and bullying miscreants you'll all rot under the prison you and your band of journalists.

     

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  6.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 6:00am

    Mike Rogers

    Man, Mike Rogers better hope he has some sort of immunity if he ever travels to the UK with as much as he likes to insult everyone on the internet.

     

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  7.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 6:00am

    Because the terrorism laws aren't already being abused by the UK, amirite?

     

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  8.  
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    Anon E. Mous (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 6:05am

    Well I see a lot of politicians who deserve jail time for more than being a jerk ought to be rattling the bars soon then.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 6:26am

    Re: What about my rights?

    You know, that's a good point. I find religion (in any and all of its forms) extremely offensive -- yet I'm subjected to it on a daily basis, thanks to the inferior primates who've failed to evolve into thinking human beings. Should I be able to use this law to have everyone who proselytizes at me thrown in prison?

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 7:09am

    This is to do with Chris Grayling who is a massive arse. He has managed to piss everyone in the minstry of justice with Solicitors and probation striking on 31/3 and 1/4. Banning books in prison, selling probation service to the likes of CAPITA, SODEXO, A4E, Interserve who all have a history of dodgy behaviour and fraud.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 7:38am

    Re: What about my rights?

    There is no right to not be offended.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 8:05am

    Say something on the street = No punishment
    Say the same thing on the internet = Jail

    If you are easily offended, get off the internet

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 8:27am

    Re: Re: Don't show them Usenet circa 1984

    No, don't. They'll get too many ideas from /pol/.

     

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  14.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 8:40am

    Re: Re: What about my rights?

    THANK YOU, anon @7:38, exactly...
    as i've called it numerous times in the past (and no doubt will in the future):

    you have the RIGHT to NOT be assaulted;
    you do NOT have the RIGHT to NOT be insulted...

    the thing is, i KNOW as sure as dog made little green apples, that there are a MILLION times worse that goes on ALL THE TIME, only, it isn't 'recorded' as far as an email, or text message, or whatever that can become a black and white printout of what someone 'said'...

    otherwise, THERE WOULD BE LITTLE TO NO 'case' when it was simply joe blow mouthing off at the bar and calling you names and there was no 'recording' of it...

    the thing is, when i hear about shit like this, *I* want to insult the butt-hurt 'victim', AND the idiot politicians (oh, am i being redundant?) even more so...
    stupid shits

     

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  15.  
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    Technically Pedantic, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 8:45am

    Re: Re: What about my rights?

    You're proselytising now.

     

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  16.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 8:48am

    Re:

    yeppers...
    i can't stand the stupidheads who are trying to childproof the inertnet... not only CAN'T be (practically) done and maintain ANY semblance of free speech; BUT, I DON'T WANT IT DONE: this is an ADULT world (well, supposed to be), children have to GROW UP to live in it, the rest of us don't have to grown down to the lowest common denominator...

    one point in relation to people calling/texting whatever harassing crap, while i have a stupid cellular telephonic transportable computing machine thingy, i really don't mess with them much, so a question to phonephreaks:
    does the *69 block work on cellyphones ? ? ?

    if so, WHY is someone/anyone receiving 'thousands' of calls/texts from someone they don't want to communicate with if they can simply *69 them ? ? ?

    (yes, of course, the harasser can use other lines/numbers, but -really- how many even hard core jerks are going to go to the trouble to do that ? ...*thousands* of times ? )

     

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  17.  
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    Groaker, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 8:59am

    re: No right to be offense free

    English and American common law started to diverge at the time of the revolution. What is a "right" in the US (such as freedom of speech) may not be a "right" in England or GB.

    Unfortunately, the rights of self expression within the US are being eroded, and started onto the same downward slide present in other parts of the world. We now have laws that add additional penalties for the use of certain expletives, or even claiming of same, in the commission of crimes. These are in essence thought crimes.

    There should be no right to being protected against being offended, but unfortunately there are. And more and more are being formulated as the police states in various nations seek to expand their purview to controlling the entirety of behavior in life.

     

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  18.  
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    V, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 9:21am

    Re: Re:

    if so, WHY is someone/anyone receiving 'thousands' of calls/texts from someone they don't want to communicate with if they can simply *69 them ? ? ?

    A quick google search shows that blocking texts is somewhat difficult at the service provider level unless you want to cut off ALL text messaging from everyone. There are a few apps out there that do it apparently though. However, a simple solution would be to get a new phone number. I can change mine myself online through the service providers website, without any fees.

     

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  19.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 9:32am

    Re: Re: Re:

    But blocking texts (and calls) at the phone itself is a very common feature. You'll get the same result -- you won't even know the text or call happened.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 11:12am

    Re: Re: What about my rights?

    "inferior primates who've failed to evolve into thinking human beings"

    Go directly to jail.

    You have just offended a beellion inferior primates (oh, I am truly sorry - I mean fine upstanding humans at the peak of evolution errm creation).

    You can discuss it in jail with your cellmates, the inferior primates. Oh-oh, now I've done it.

    I know, let's put everyone in jail and we can settle it there.

     

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  21.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 11:55am

    Time for turnabout?

    I personally am very offended by people who seem to think that their feelings trump someone else's right to not be thrown in jail over pathetically minor things, so how does one go about getting the people pushing this law/amendment tossed behind bars?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 11:58am

    Re: Re: What about my rights?

    "I find religion (in any and all of its forms) extremely offensive"

    You find what people believe to be offensive? That's a little crimethinky, and ironically it puts you in the same camp as most religious people. It would be better to reserve your offense for what people do rather than what they think.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 1:23pm

    The UK definitely doesn't seem to be a free country anymore. Perhaps it never was?

     

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  24.  
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    Zonker, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 1:54pm

    The problem with criminalizing the act of offending someone is that being offended by something is a choice made by the one offended. For example, you can choose to be offended by "yo mama" insults, or you can brush it off and return the banter. You can choose take offense to an negative opinion of soldiers/police/religion/government/etc., or you can choose to ignore/debate/explore/accept/reject their opinion.

    It is an uncivilized and unjust society that reacts with violence or incarceration those who speak contrary to their beliefs or sensibilities. When what constitutes a criminal act is determined by what people in power choose to be offended by then punishment will be arbitrary and capricious.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 3:00pm

    Said on Street - Arrested

    "On Saturday night (3-17-14), political police in Liverpool arrested BNP Head of Security Martin Reynolds after a woman called Merseyside police and complained that "a man had made a derogatory comment" to her outside the North West's BNP regional fundraising event."
    http://www.bnp.org.uk/news/national/desperate-political-police-arrest-another-bnp-campaigner

    G o to a sporting event - "Football" in the UK is a filth laden, cursing fest that rivals no other...

     

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  26.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Mar 27th, 2014 @ 8:33pm

    Re:

    Awesome!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    me@me.net, Mar 28th, 2014 @ 5:00am

    How often is one you disagree with a troll?

    Yet another demonstration of how far up their asses their heads are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    GEMont, Mar 28th, 2014 @ 1:27pm

    Nothing up my sleeve....

    Merely a continuation the Corporate Fed's plans of putting an end to public dissent on the internet, by the usual tried and true process.

    Make a law that says one thing the public is ok with (for the children), and then slowly reinterpret that law's wording to include the things that the law was really designed to stop.

    I'm pretty sure that by now, we could publish a book filled with such legislative slight of hand.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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