On the balance of probabilities, no. Many laws against harassment and computer misuse already exist. It’s just most of us don’t know they do! The successful prosecution of internet troll John Nimmo in February 2017 was a case in point. Nimmo received a sentence of two years and three months for threatening victims with malicious electronic communications, communications conveying false information, and grossly offensive information, including sending a picture of a kitchen knife and a message: “You better watch your back Jewish scum” to a female Labour MP. Another of Nimmo’s victims was incorrectly accused publicly online of being part of a paedophile ring.
The existing laws that can really help us to protect ourselves’ and loved ones against bullying and harassment include:
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997
- Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
- Malicious Communications Act 1988
- Data Protection Act 1998 (Privacy provisions)
- Communications Act 2003
- Defamation Act 2013
- Education Act 2011
Probably the following actions need to occur in order to make us safer and happier online:
- Social Media providers to be held formally, legally accountable for malicious and criminally motivated content that they host (including the removal of terror videos). The Digital Economy Act 2017 does introduce a voluntary Code of Practice; realistically, this is unlikely to counter the threat
- More police resources, including formal training for all police officers and relevant crown prosecutors on cyber-related harassment (and where the legal boundaries exist) – most are unaware of existing legal scope
- Longer prison sentences for harassment and malicious communications offences: including, post-release, the mandatory monitoring of device and network use by offenders by digital forensics experts. Online terrorism, death and sexual crime threats should really attract heavier sentencing, in my view
- All of us ‘citizens’ need to wake up! You own your personal data. You also own your ‘Human Rights’. Be careful about what data you put ‘out there’. Use Social Media responsibly. Don’t live your (or your kids) lives through it. Learn and use all of the existing Social Media safety features. Block your timelines and locations. Think before you click on accepting so-called ‘friends’ requests and dodgy URLs. Challenge and seek redress from companies or groups of people who unlawfully hold your personal data. (I.e., those you never gave permission to.) And report any harassment to the authorities. Keep reporting, if necessary…
Existing laws in the UK relating to ‘cyberbullying’ are not perfect. But the whole range of existing laws can – if used effectively by the police and prosecutors – do provide ample protection (if not, the right level of deterrence). For example, the NSPCC recently managed to lead the ‘Flaw in the Law’ campaign to ensure that the online grooming of children by adults (the use of electronic messages) became a significant sexual offence. Let’s give our collective efforts to fully enforcing and resourcing existing laws, to make our cyber-space much safer and nicer.
Richard Bingley is Executive Director of the Global Cyber Academy and Advisory Council member at the New Security Alliance