Britain’s intelligence services raised the threat level of a terrorist attack from ’substantial’ to ’severe’ last week, meaning an attack was considered to be ‘highly likely’ – despite the Home Secretary saying that there was ‘no intelligence’ to suggest that an attack was imminent!
Who to believe? The Joint Intelligence Service or the Home Secretary? Is Alan Johnson presiding over a ’sexed-down’ dossier?
One way to gauge the level of the threat is to look at Police activity, for surely if an attack is ‘highly likely’ then all available officers will be out monitoring likely terrorist suspects?
It seems they are not. In fact it seems they have an inordinate amount of time on their hands, and are filling that time by acting as part-time referees in the routine pig-tail pulling and bra-snapping that goes on in Internet forum land.
I am not referring to true libel. The on-line environment is not a legal vacuum, in general if something is illegal off-line, then it is illegal on-line.The Laws of Defamation apply on-line and there are conditional fee agreements available to anyone who has a reasonable chance of proving that they have been defamed. The notion that Libel law is only for the rich is oversimplistic. However that is civil law, and there is a growing trend for those who have had their pigtails pulled, to run to the police and use criminal law to silence their critics.
The Protection of Harassment Act of 1997 was intended to protect individuals from stalking, it stemmed from a Private Members Bill, but the eventual drafting of the Act brought warnings from even the legal firm that helped in the drafting that it had gone further than they intended.
“At the time we advised those we assisted in the parliamentary process that the law against harassment was far more outreaching than our original intention.”
It is not just the Harassment Act which is causing concern, but also the Telecommunications Act.
Gavin Brant was charged under this act after he wrote of a local policeman in a postscript on his blog – “P.S. – D.C. Lloyd, God help your new-born baby”. This was perceived as ‘grossly offensive and menacing’ and he was find £150 with £354 costs for those few words.
In the past week, Stephen Sizer, a fairly controversial character who has encountered considerable opposition for his views on line, has revealed that for the fourth time in recent months, he had a meeting with West Yorkshire CID officers, who in turn had been instructed by Surrey Police, in order to explain his hurt feelings at length.
“Two officers from West Yorkshire Police visited the author of the blog concerned. The feelings of the complainant were relayed to the author who voluntarily removed the blog. No formal action was taken.”
That is a fair number of officers spending time filling in reports, travelling to and from the homes of complainant and ‘defendant’, two police forces involved.
In the McCann saga, a falling out between the Chairman and Secretary of a fund raising group dedicated to opposing the McCann’s version of the events whereby Madeleine disappeared, has equally consumed a considerable amount of police time in Kent and Essex as allegations tottered back and forth over the Internet.
” A Detective Sergeant called at home on Sunday at 9.15am and was here till 2.00pm taking a long statement with 11 exhibits […] he will speak to Det Chief Inspector *** this week when decisions will be taken on what further action, if any to take.”
4 3/4 hours of police time, not counting the report filling or the case meeting with a Detective Chief Inspector!
These are not isolated incidents. Oliver Kamm amusingly describes the several hours he spent being interviewed at Abingdon Police Station after he had ‘hurt the feelings’ of another on-line commentator. No charges resulted.
It is not just private individuals who are running along to PC Plod when they find themselves distressed by the Internet, our old friend Vera Baird is at it too – she is upset at comments (not about her, it is other old slappers that are being spoken of) on a site dedicated to rating prostitutes, and she ‘wants to close that down as quickly as possible’. Are those comments illegal? Nope, but that is not deterring her.
When Alan Murray faced charges of intimidation in cyberspace he said:
‘During my testimony in court I said I was only trying to criticise those in power or those that would speak for us. That right has been upheld by the judge’s decision. If the judge had ruled against me, then every blogger would have been vulnerable to charges of intimidation because those at the end of their criticism could claim they were being picked upon. A very bad precedent would have been set,’.
He went on to say that he intended to sue the police for the time and resources they had wasted on investigating his case – does anybody know if he succeeded? I have been unable to find out. At the time of this case it was said that:
‘The case of the Belfast blogger is as important as Undercover Mosque in terms of protecting the right to criticise and the freedom to inquire. The judgment in Belfast protects the blogosphere’s freedom and it means the rich, powerful or any interest groups, whoever they are, can’t bully bloggers using the law. As for the police in this case, they and the law should not be intervening in legitimate debate.’
That was in 2008 – what has happened in the meantime that gives the police so much time to listen to the whining and whinnying of those who may not have a case for civil defamation but appear to have found an ready ear in their local police station to listen and console their hurt feelings?
Meanwhile, who is hunting the terrorists?