The Twitter “Bomb Hoax” case: worse than we thought?

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  • Thanks again for an insightful and well reasoned post. If only the creators of our rapidly multiplying legislature could apply the same reason...

    So then, does this imply that the CPS could bring around a prosecution in the case of a 'flame' comment in a blog, even if no one specifically takes offence. The mere existence of a 'grossly offensive' remark becomes one of the judgement of the prosecutor rather than an actual aggreived person?

    If this is the case, it is indeed worrying for anyone who has ever tapped out an ill conceived message and then hit 'send'. A few more prosecutions of this type and the internet will become a bit of a wasteland - or at least it will in the UK where the thought police will be after you.

    Does this, then, begin to seriously erode on the ideals of free speech? I agree with the sentiment above, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, but when the CPS can invoke section 127 like this, I really do begin to fear its consequences for freedom of expression.

    G.

    (Should express vested interests; I'm a member of LPUK.)

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  • An excellent post on something that (bloggers et al) should most definitely be aware of.
    Reading your article it looks like what the CPS are saying that as long as my messages with regards to anthrax, Ebola and atomised heavy metals injected into air conditioning units aren't 'menacing' they can't get me. I'm working very hard to come up with a method of discussing terrorist attacks involving these ideas that isn't menacing. Judging by their response and examples I can make these comments anywhere, go to an airport ready to be picked up prior to prosecution.
    This worrying story makes my own anecdote makes me more grateful for the outcome of my own run in with airport security: I accidentally (rush to catch the plane etc) wore a t-shirt through Heathrow the other day with a picture of Stewie (from family guy) holding a flame thrower; a guard at the security check point told me off for it. Looks like I got off light as no doubt CPS would prosecute me for being 'menacing'.

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  • Would there be scope for a challenge under Article 10 on the issue of proportionality?

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  • Great analysis, and a true travesty of freedom of expression...even more so as it has been so under-reported.
    The ramifications of the use of this law are terrifying. It is clear this law existed for the use of one to one communications where there was a specific recipient targeted by an individual. How it should ever be judged that the law now also applies to one to many communications where the originator doesn't even know who will be a recipient is absolutely beyond me.
    We have to keep these laws up to date, otherwise injustices like this are all too easy to carry out. The worst of it all seems to be that it is carried out for no-one's gain other than the police and CPS.

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  • All internet users in the UK should be grateful that Allen is prepared to devote the time to investigate such abuses of law as this. However, there seems to be a rather more fundamental inconsistency in the authorities' approach to this case, as captured in the results of his enquiries.
    The CPS are quoted as explaining why this prosecution was seen to be in the public interest by arguing that “While Mr Chambers may have meant this as a joke, the airport could not risk treating it as such. The threat had to be taken seriously by the airport authorities, who contacted the police. It caused unnecessary disruption because of a malicious communication.”
    But Allen also observes that "of course, no alarm or distress - let alone “unnecessary alarm of distress” – had been caused whatsoever. The silly joke had been reported to the police and the airport by a third party; it would appear that no one who saw the tweet regarded it as serious. The airport later confirmed no inconvenience had been caused, other than in respect of the investigation."
    So, if the silly joke was reported to the police by a third party, and the airport confirmed that no inconvenience had been caused to the travelling public or airport staff, where does that leave the CPS assertion that they could not afford to treat it as a joke? What, exactly, did the airport do in response to Paul Chambers' tweet that merits the CPS assessment of it as being "of menacing character"? It appears the answer is nothing at all.

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  • I am trying to weigh up boths sides here from the CPS's point of view. I think the real question here is the motive of the CPS. Are they trying to set a precident here so they can prosecute anyone stupid enough to make a real threat via a blog/twitter, or are they trying to stop/discourage people from doing this again?

    At this point I will point out that I don't know the person so will presume he is a nice sensible person who made the hoax out of frustration at his flight being cancelled and possibly trying to make some fun of the situation. The fact that he pleaded guilty also shows that he realises he fucked up/what an idiot he was. As far as I know there is no particular regulation that he could be prosecuted under for being stupid so that left the CPS option with a limited set of options.
    1) Do nothing (no deterant to the next comedian hoaxer)
    2) Caution him (a deterent but won't be widely publisised)
    3) Prosecute him (make an example of him, reaches every area in the country and beyond)

    The CPS seemed to have went for option 3) so that means they need to make sure he is made a big an example of as posisble. Given that there was a good chance he would have gotten off on Section 51 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. That left them only Section 127 of the Communication Act 2003. Yes they are stretching the Law here and ignoring its intention and this is where their key motive is underlined again: setting a precident for use of the Communications Act to blogs/twitter or to deter the next person from making a hoax via a blog/twitter.

    My personal opinion is he should have got a small slap on the wrists (cautioned) and a strong lecture on why bomb hoaxes are not funny.

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  • An excellent analysis, highlighting of course that the only matter of public interest in this instance is not the prosecution of Paul Chambers, rather the loss of liberty, the loss of the the right to freedom of expression and the manipulation of statute.

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  • Of course it is in the public interest when someone making a silly joke that offends someone is treated as a criminal.

    Ooops, that was a silly joke that probably offended someone. Please don't communicate it as I might be prosecuted under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

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  • Wait... according to §127 2. c), persistently being annoying on the internets is a criminal act!

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  • I can tell that you are not a criminal lawyer!
    1. The Communications act is NOT a little known act. It is a reenactment of the telecommunications act and is used ALL THE TIME. Many errant husbands and boyfriends could tell you that!
    2. It doesn't matter if one is not charged with the offence one is arrested for. Suppose I stabbed you, and was arrested for GBH (GRIEVOUS bodily harm). Luckily, at the hospital, you are found to have only a scratch, because my knife was plastic. I've still assaulted you, but the prosecution cannot prove the initial charge, as there is no injury to sustain it. I'd be charged with the lesser offence, that the prosecution can prove, of common assault. Likewise, if you were to have died (because my knife wasn't plastic!) my charge would be increased to murder... nobody would disagree with the CPS deciding to do that!
    3. There is an absolute public interest in having updated the telecommunications act to include electronic communication (ie social networking, the internet, email...)! Otherwise, if a man is sending his ex-wife threatening emails, he would escape prosecution. Surely you would agree that even if his ex-wife does not open these emails - and thus they are unread - he should be prosecuted for having sent them in the first place. He shouldn't get off because she's too scared to open her emails!
    4. You haven't said exactly what terms the threat was in. Presumably the defendant knew that bomb threats are particularly menacing in the current climate - that's why he chose that way to express himself! Apparently someone DID find this sufficiently menacing to complain, and the police would have been negligent not to put the airport on alert. We can't have it both ways: people would have been pretty upset if a bomb had been planted and the police hadn't warned anybody or even investigated!
    5. Once the police feel forced to investigate, they are entitled to arrest and charge. The public interest in this lies in the fact that the defendant chose a particularly sensitive way of expressing his threat, and it is also right that there should be a deterrent effect. That is why he wasn't cautioned.
    6. the defendant in this case clearly accepts this reasoning, as he pleaded guilty!
    7. it is absolutely right that there should be a law extending to social networking sites that prevents people going beyond normal comment and banter into specific unlawful threats.

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