Friday, April 20, 2012

Why everyone on the internet should be aware of Section 127

I've touched on charges brought under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 before, but I think it well worth the time to point out how this (sadly like so many pieces of legislation) is being misapplied. In part the passage states that:

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or
(b)causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

Seems okay at first; crank callers; heavy breathers etc all covered however the devil is in the details - firstly "message or other matter". What is an "other matter". Well this very blog is using a public electronic communications network (the internet) and thus qualifies as an "other matter" so does a tweet; so would a facebook message; any comments you make here would also fall under this meaning.

In essence anything published on the internet falls under this section of the Communications Act and that leads to the catch - "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing nature". And the definition of all those terms are... determined by case law and judges.

Call me a nasty name in the comments and you may well be charged for being grossly offensive. All that pornography on the internet could be deemed "indecent" or "obscene"? Better still as the internet is international; in theory someone in say the USA who posted something rude on my blog could be charged; in fact anyone anywhere could be charged with such an offence simply because they are causing such a message to appear on my UK blog.

Heck even the exceptions only apply to broadcast media so heads-up to journalists whose papers add their columns online - said something nasty about a person? Don't expect a civil suit, expect the police to knock on your door waving this bit of legislation at you.

None of us are safe.