New report calls for changes in laws relating to electronic communications
Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other social media platforms are now a daily fixture in the lives of many people. Facebook alone has, incredibly, over a billion monthly active users. However, the speed at which social media usage has developed has arguably left the statute a long way behind. The Communications Act, which deals with electronic communication networks, came into force in 2003 – three years before the first tweet was sent, and several years before Facebook became a household name. It was not drafted with social media in mind.
In the case of R v Paul Chambers, a young accountant, Paul Chambers, frustrated by a delay at Nottingham airport, tweeted that if the airport didn’t improve their services he would “blow the airport sky high”. He was convicted under Section 127 of The Communications Act of using a “public electronic communication network” (Twitter) to send a “message of menacing character”. After his case was taken up by celebrities such as Stephen Fry, who paid his costs, the conviction was quashed at the High Court in 2012.
As a result of this case the CPS issued guidance in 2013 on the circumstances in which prosecutors should pursue offenders.
A report was published last week by the campaigning group Big Brother Watch, which states that Section 127 of The Communications Act 2003 is outdated and that serious reform is needed in this area. The call by Big Brother Watch for a revised and updated statute that takes into account the way that social media is used in the present day is a valid one. But inevitably any such statute would need to be regularly reviewed in order to keep up with the evolving use of social media.