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Chilling Guidelines Issued For UK Communications Act Enforcement 111

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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 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 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.

  • 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 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 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.
  • by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:15PM (#42337127)
    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.
  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:29PM (#42337257)

    'course you could try to have a jury of your peers convict him for it, but you'll get nowhere.

    Whereas a jury of your peers would agree WBC should be shoved in the slammer.

    (PS you'd need standing. Unless you're a member of WBC you don't. And they already sue people for getting irate over their trolling, so no change there).

  • 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.

  • Re:Go UK! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:40PM (#42337345)

    In jail for exercising their free speech rights?

    They have every right to believe what they want, and express that belief in public, and that is what they do. I may no agree with them, but the last thing I want to see is a government deciding what speech is ok and what isn't.

    Free speech was never intended to defend the rights of those who say what others approve of, or those who quietly express their beliefs in out of the way corners. If the most offensive, in your face speech is not protected, then we may as well not claim to have free speech.

    (and no laws against yelling fire in a theater are not relevant, nor are laws against fraudulent claims, this is clearly an expression of their opinion)

  • Re:Go UK! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ConfusedVorlon ( 657247 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @01:04PM (#42337553) Homepage

    and there you have your dilemma.

    one of the consequences of free speech is that you get arses like the Westboro church.

    speaking as UK citizen, I envy the ability of the USA legal system to say 'we hate what they're saying, but there is a bigger principle at stake here'.

    the only other alternative is for someone somewhere to be in charge of deciding when the line has been crossed.

    -westboro 'god hates gays'
    -pro life 'murderer' signs outside abortion clinics
    -islamist 'death to those who insult Islam'
    -atheist 'islam is stupid'
    -some guy 'some celebrity is fat and ugly'

    for any place that you are willing to draw the line, I'll find some offensive speech that sits just above or below your line. The next person in the room won't quite agree with you on where the line has to go.

    who decides which person goes to jail?

    the Westboro baptist church, is actually something to be proud of. Not because it is hateful, but because it is allowed to be hateful.

  • by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @02:06PM (#42338093) Journal

    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.

"The following is not for the weak of heart or Fundamentalists." -- Dave Barry