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Chilling Guidelines Issued For UK Communications Act Enforcement 111

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the up-is-down dept.
From El Reg comes word that interim guidelines have been issued for prosecutions under the UK Communications Act that have landed a few folks in jail for offensive speech: "Keir Starmer QC published this morning his interim guidelines for crown prosecutors that demanded a more measured approach to tackling trolling on the Internet. ... 'A prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest if the communication is swiftly removed, blocked, not intended for a wide audience or not obviously beyond what could conceivably be tolerable or acceptable in a diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression. The interim guidelines thus protect the individual from threats or targeted harassment while protecting the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some and painful to those subjected to it.'"
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Chilling Guidelines Issued For UK Communications Act Enforcement

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  • Do they get a new trial?

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:48AM (#42336893) Homepage Journal

      Nope, these are only guidelines. The state reserves the right to punish whomever it wants. The law still says all those completely harmless things are still illegal.

      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:18PM (#42337163) Journal

        Nope, these are only guidelines. The state reserves the right to punish whomever it wants.

        The parent post has it spot on.

        Most countries actually have two parallel legal systems.
        The first: The laws and legal precedents that we can all go to the library and read
        The second: Unpublished guidelines, policies, and training manuals that shape how the laws are actually applied.

        It doesn't actually matter what the law says, if the bureaucrats, police, prosecutors, and judges have already agreed on how to interpret it.

        • by joshamania (32599)

          TL;DR The law is whatever they want it to be.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by davester666 (731373)

          Current guidelines in the US:

          Once the person becomes a suspect, charge him/her with everything you possibly can, no matter how ridiculous the charge.

          Then, use the threat of possibly 175 years in jail to work out a deal for 10 years in jail.

          Right now, you are breaking some law that carries the penalty of at least 3 months in jail. Welcome to the land of the free.

        • "It doesn't actually matter what the law says, if the bureaucrats, police, prosecutors, and judges have already agreed on how to interpret it."

          I'm not arguing with you, but that is the completely wrong way to go about it.

          "The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it." -- James Wilson

          • by Maritz (1829006)

            "The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it." -- James Wilson

            It seems crazy to me that that's considered a notable quote, but hey - people write something down and someone comes along later with motivated reasoning and "interprets" the meaning. Kinda like when Jews put a string around their neighbourhood so they can carry things around on the Sabbath (e.g. their keys) without vexing God. Because God is fooled by some string. Yay!

      • by Jawnn (445279)
        So it's "We can do this the hard way or the easy way. Take it down now, and nobody gets hurt. Your choice, scumbag." Wow. I feel better already.
      • for a system of government founded on natural law, anything which prevents someone from doing anything they want which isn't harmful to another is de facto illegal. for a system of government founded on common law, any law which doesn't prove itself to be reasonably necessary is illegal.
  • by Dan Dankleton (1898312) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:40AM (#42336821)
    The guidelines are that people should be a bit more liberal in what they accept - not the scariest thing that the UK government has ever proposed.
    • by Harold Halloway (1047486) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:51AM (#42336931)

      Isn't this 'chilling' as in 'relaxing'? It certainly doesn't worry me and looks as though Starmer-Smith is seeking to tackle the problem in a measured, sensible fashion.

      • Sorry - 'Starmer', not 'Starmer-Smith'. He's a completely different person!

      • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @02:23PM (#42338237) Journal
        The UK use of the word means to chill with terror - to be scared into feeling cold. "Anthony Hopkins' chilling portrayal of Hannibal Lecter", that sort of thing.
    • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:57AM (#42336995)

      It's still a bit messy though. What it really means is that 'These things are harmless and trivial, but still illegal. So rather than making them legal, we'll just make a non-binding promise not to prosecute.'

      And cynically, I continue with the inevitable: '... unless the victim is someone rich, powerful or famous. In which case the full force of the law will come down upon the offender.'

      • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:15PM (#42337127) Homepage
        As head of the CPS he can't decide what's legal or illegal, just what laws to actually enforce. He obviously thinks the way these laws are being interpreted is absurd and has taken measures to avoid abuse, but a better solution is clearly for the laws to be written more tightly (a lot more tightly). Hopefully this will embarrass the government into fixing the laws.
        • You must be pretty young if you think embarrassing any government will get them to fix the laws.

          Most likely, they'll make it illegal for him to suggest guidelines that are not in strict compliance with the law. Thus able to send him to jail for embarrassing the gov't.

          • by xelah (176252)

            That'd mean parliament dealing with things it doesn't want to deal with. For example, judges and prosecutors have repeatedly said that parliament must deal with the issue of assisted dying, what should happen when someone goes with someone to euthenasia clinics in other countries, and so on. They're technically illegal, but prosecutors mostly don't prosecute whilst complaining that they don't want to have to be the ones making the decision. But parliament finds it quite convenient not to deal with it - all

        • So it's similar to the POTUS then. He can't make laws by himself but he can say leave potheads in WA and CO alone, there are more important things to do... like bust potheads in every other state.
      • by Shimbo (100005)

        It's still a bit messy though. What it really means is that 'These things are harmless and trivial, but still illegal. So rather than making them legal, we'll just make a non-binding promise not to prosecute.'

        He's reacting to the courts tossing some convictions out on appeal. So case law says harmless things are legal; I agree it would be better if Parliament reframed the law a bit. However, this isn't a situation where the CPS has decided unilaterally not to prosecure.

    • by Xest (935314)

      It's chilling in the way that The Register is a sensationalist trash-publication along the lines of Fox News and The Daily Mail and that it's readers have thus been brainwashed into thinking that everything ever is bad and out to get them, hence why they get confused between what is bad, and what is, in fact, actually good.

      Seriously, this is what happens if you routinely read The Register, your brain turns to mush and you just start spouting complete and utter bollocks. You only have to read an Andrew Orlow

      • by epyT-R (613989)

        Ah so if someone disagrees with the government position, label him as paranoid or as a 'victim' of 'sensationalist propaganda.' Who does that sound like?

          The correct thing to do is verify the facts and the conclusions made. The law under discussion here is the reprehensible issue, not the behavior of the people whacked with it. this larger issue is independent of how register and slashdot editors spun it..

        • by Xest (935314)

          Yeah, except there's not actually a problem with the government position in this case, it's actually a marked improvement from the current status quo, so yes, I'll label him a victim of sensationalism, because he's seeing a problem where there simply isn't one.

    • by Shagg (99693)

      I assume the "chilling" part is that the guidelines were even necessary to begin with.

    • by greenbird (859670)

      The guidelines are that people should be a bit more liberal in what they accept - not the scariest thing that the UK government has ever proposed.

      Except that this doesn't change the law nor what is illegal. It's just guidelines for subjectively selectively applying the law only where they feel like it.

      -- "There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws." From Atlas Shrugs

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:42AM (#42336845)

    Like the television? If you don't like it . . . . CHANGE THE CHANNEL!!

    • Channels are regulated. Now its individual people. How soon before this is brought off-line to everyday public discussion? Will you be fined automatically by an ever present municipal computer system?
  • by davidoff404 (764733) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:42AM (#42336847)
    They're eminently sensible guidelines for prosecution, particularly in light of the current situation. They are in no way "chilling."
    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:49AM (#42336909)

      If anything the intent appears to be to reduce the chilling effect of the existing guidelines. It might not go far enough, but it still seems like a step in the right direction.

    • by DutchUncle (826473) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:09PM (#42337075)
      It's "chilling" that the actual law goes so much further than this, and that these guidelines that appear sensible to /.ers need to be made explicit to law enforcement.
      • It's "chilling" that the actual law goes so much further than this,

        So, it's chilling as in not at all.

        The law might be chilling, but the guidlines, as claimed buy TFH are not.

    • by jthill (303417) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:29PM (#42337259)

      If you say something that offends someone it's the prosecutor's discretion whether or not you're charged,but if he does bring them you'll still be convicted because the law still stands. You're granted permission to say unpopular things by the government, and a government official decides what's unpopular, and he can get convictions for ridiculous things.

      The prosecutor is only asked to consider whether it's "likely to be in the public interest" to bring charges. Thank God prosecutors in western nations have no history of bringing politically-motivated charges, charging disfavored people on whim or request or for political advantage with trumped-up offenses, otherwise this setup would be an open invitation to the worst kinds of abuse.

    • by cayenne8 (626475)

      They're eminently sensible guidelines for prosecution, particularly in light of the current situation. They are in no way "chilling."

      Anything shy of changing the LAWS themselves, is chilling.

      The laws are chilling....selective enforcement...maybe a little less, but who's to say when the next one in charge comes in, they go the other way and try to over prosecute and stretch the laws even more?

  • by ciderbrew (1860166) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:45AM (#42336867)
    They are trying to outline "common sense" from what I've read thus far. We don't get freedom of speech as a constitution right in the UK; but if we can't take the piss out of someone, then take it and dish out more back, what's the point?
    Being a sarcastic bell-end is a must! Ludicrous threats for violence too, and if my train is cancelled again I'm going to find the head of south western rail and stick the first 4 coaches of the 7:50 London service up his arse.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:57AM (#42336989)

      It's chilling in that, rather than repeal or rewrite the Communications Decency Act, which basically criminalises anything said online if it causes offense to anyone else in any way, they're just saying "We won't bother prosecuting unless enough people kick up a fuss about it."

      Say something offensive to a celebrity, or make a comment that would upset grieving parents that have been in the tabloids that week, or burn a poppy while being the wrong skin-colour, or get an offensive tweet noticed and retweeted enough by Twitter celebrities, and you'll still get prosecuted. Nothing has changed, just the enforcement of a stupid law is going to get a bit more selective (i.e. it will be even more arbritrarily enforced). That's what's chilling.

      • by Spad (470073)

        Because Keir Starmer doesn't have that power. The best he can do is change the prosecuting guidelines for the CPS.

      • It's chilling in that, rather than repeal or rewrite the...

        So, it's chilling in that it isn't.

        The law is chilling. The guidelines are not.

        The CPS has no authority to rewrite the law. But they've clearly decided that parliament psased an idiotic law and they want nothing to do with it.

  • by daveewart (66895) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:48AM (#42336889)

    These guidelines are not chilling: they are the opposite. Following the introduction of these guidelines, many knee-jerk prosecutions will not take place, whereas previously they would have taken place.

    Whoever wrote the Slashdot headline is entirely wrong.

    • At a guess, the submitter's thought process was that these are "Chilling guidelines" in that they're guidelines that "chill" the UK Communications Act, rather than "Scary guidelines" for a "Scary act".

      So, you guys, just chillax about it, OK? ;-)

    • by mrbester (200927)

      Chilling as in cooling off from the flames of "jail them all" mouth frothing Daily Mail style "justice", not chilling as in creepy freedom restricting by an overbearing state.

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      In Britain this is quite chilling. These are a people that WANT a Nanny State Gov't that regulates politeness with an iron fist and enforces public safety with a million cameras. Essentially, the gov't is saying they might have to live their lives a little less sheltered and allow other people to say things that they may not like.

      Pure Anarchy.

      • As opposed to the entire populace of the USA which want to be gate-raped by the TSA, want to be locked up indefinitely without trial in Gitmo, and consider it the lesser evil that innocent children should die rather than american men with small penises give up their gun-toys.

        Or perhaps there's a *populace* that is outraged by all these things, but a *government* that implements them. On both sides of the pond.

        Simon.

    • I for one, find it very comforting to know that my freedom depends on whether some arbitrary judge thinks that what I said was funny or not.
    • It is still well short of freedom of speech, and British libel laws are still a huge problem.

  • by Colourspace (563895) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @11:53AM (#42336949)
    This is exactly what we wanted - a common sense approach to Twitter messages. Though I am not a twitterer myself, the fact a guy can have his life ruined by posting a joke tweet is exactly what this is about, NOT being knee-jerk, as they have been in the past. In other words his is a *good thing*. 'Measured' in this context means to apply more common sense to these situations.
    • by epyT-R (613989)

      Or maybe we shouldn't make offending these hairtrigger, insecure people a criminal offense in the first place. 'Offending feelings/beliefs' should NEVER be a crime in a free society. Once feelings/consensus matter more than the facts and the truth, the society will fall once it gets too difficult for individuals within it to acknowledge reality when making decisions. The fear and risk of artificially imposed legal reprisals from insecure masses/governments/organizations would be too great.

      Western society

  • It's easy to balance a scale when you can change the weight of on one side. Then again, it's easy to unbalance it in your favor too.

    And that's why a bunch of people a few centuries ago decided that was a bad idea, split from their former country, and decided that freedom of expression need be kept protected. And they were right. Because some three hundred years later the same bullshit is happening.

  • Are they chilling in that they will cause the idiots prosecuting to chill the fuck out?

  • This is just the latest occasion when I have wished that /. editors would, you know, do some editing. The story is interesting; the attempt by the submitter to spin it as evidence of a particular viewpoint adds nothing.

    All legal jurisdictions are having to come to terms with the fact that groups of people in social networks now have the ability to publish (mis)information on a scale that was previously limited to mainstream media outlets. This effort from the UK authorities is (in my opinion) a reasonably

  • For a European government those guidelines seem pretty liberal.

  • Chilling? I think the submitter fails the goddam Turing test.

    "highly reasonable" I would say. Which, come to think of it, is kind of chilling, seeing as it's the UK government being reasonable.

  • If you can't say something nice then don't say anything at all..... else you go to jail law.
    Sticks and stones may break my bones but calling me names will land you in jail.
    I'm rubber you're glue, what ever you say bounces off me and locks you in jail.

    Yeah ok..

  • ..."not obviously beyond what could conceivably be tolerable or acceptable in a diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression"

    Is there anything that is obviously beyond what could conceivably be tolerable or acceptable in a diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression? I can't think of anything.

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