New UK Law Quadruples Sentence for Cyber Abuse

The UK has a plan to crack down on cyber abuse: quadruple the current sentence. According to a BBC News report, a new amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill going through Parliament would allow magistrates to pass serious cases on to crown courts, where the maximum sentence would be extended. Under the act, it is an offense to send another person a letter or electronic communication that contains an indecent or grossly offensive message, a threat or information which is false and known or believed by the sender to be false.

BBC News quoted Justice Secretary Chris Grayling describing the purpose behind the new law: “[t]his is a law to combat cruelty – and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob . . . we must send out a clear message – if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years.” This raises the ultimate question: should social media be regulated? If so, to what extent? Additionally, what is the proper balance between regulation and the freedom of speech?

While the United States Constitution creates additional barriers to the passage of similar laws in the States, BBC News noted how supporters of this new law handled the balance between regulation and freedom of speech in the UK. BBC News quoted TV presenter Chloe Madeley on the matter: “. . . threats of any kind must not be interpreted as freedom of speech. Threatening to harm others is extreme and crosses the line of personal opinion into criminal behavior.”

Does it matter that social networking has become the most influential and powerful voice of the people? Ms. Madeley believes it does, and in the article she cites the strength of this new medium as one of the reasons why social networking must now be regulated.

Are there other ways to attack online abuse without resorting to additional laws or increases in sentencing? In the article, Labour MP Stella Creasy states that police and prosecutors need to improve their training on stalking and harassment to deal with online abuse. However, the article also notes the problems investigators face with determining the intent behind online text, an element required in most criminal laws that stand against online abuse.

One thing is clear: cyber abuse, cyber mobs, cyber bullying, cyber harassment, and all the other labels that have come to represent the rise in victimization through online text, is a global problem. Each country will ultimately have to determine whether to prosecute these harms by extending current laws or creating independent laws that create a new category of crimes. If this new amendment passes in the UK, a lot of eyes and ears will be tuned into the results.

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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. She is the 2018-9 Editor in Chief of the Syracuse Law Review, as well as a member of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

Anna Maria Castillois 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography

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