Making the UK safe online

Partner Ian Robinson comments that the continued growth of the use of social media has unfortunately become an easy medium to publish unacceptable material. The days of poison pen letters may be in the past but the tendency of some individuals to publish offensive comments about others is 'alive and well' and, indeed, has increased significantly. Unfortunately, however, our laws struggle to keep up with the rate of change.
 
The government has therefore asked the Law Commission to review the laws around offensive communications and assess whether they currently provide the right protection to victims online. With research showing that nearly a third of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying last year, the independent body intends to provide a robust review of the current laws and set out how they apply to online communications.

This independent review of the law is expected to be published within 6 months of when work starts in April 2018. If deficiencies in the current law are identified, the Commission has agreed to further work looking at potential options for reform.

In October 2017 the Government launched its Internet Safety Strategy green paper, pledging to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. It is the first part of its “Digital Charter” programme of work to agree standards and rules for the online world and put them into practice.

As part of this work, the Government has asked the independent Law Commission to conduct a robust review of the current laws around offensive online communications. The Commission will analyse:

  • How the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003 currently deal with offensive online communications
  • What “grossly offensive” actually means and whether that poses difficulties in applying the law
  • Whether the law means one needs to prove fault or prove intention to prosecute offensive online communications
  • The need to update definitions in the law which technology has rendered obsolete or confused; for example, the meaning of “sender”
  • How other parts of the criminal law overlap with online communications laws

Ian said, “If we are to be safe, both on and off line, the criminal law must offer appropriate protection in both spaces”.

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March 2018 

 

 

 

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