Virtual authoritarianism


computerThe increasingly virtual world in which we live is creating a domain where the boundaries of law are unclear. There is currently a consultation going on to see whether granting the serious and organised crime agency (SOCA) the power to close domains which they consider to have criminal links. Once again, it seems that the police are taking the heavy-handed approach without any consideration for people’s right to free speech and private property.

Under the current proposals, there is no requirement for judicial services to be consulted before the sites are shut down. It is clear that the issue surrounding the legality of certain Internet sites is complicated, but that is no excuse for bulldozing the rights of those who legitimately use them. The maxim that people are innocent until proven guilty should have no less relevance when it comes to people’s digital property than their tangible property. By granting power to the police to violate digital property rights, we are moving towards a more controlling state.

Several lawyers specializing in information technology have stated that such a move is “deeply concerning”. Without a judicial review, the police hold all the power to decide which sites are legal and which are not. Simply looking at the police’s targeting of photographers with anti-terror legislation shows that they cannot be trusted to operate in good faith – the watchers need to be watched. In the free society in which we are supposed to live, police cannot be given control over which websites are and are not allowed to exist. Complicated though this issue may be, criminality on the Internet cannot be solved by giving the police the power to request that websites be shut down without judicial oversight.