The Law Commission has today published a Scoping Report on Abusive and Offensive Online Communications, which raises concerns over the clarity and efficacy of the current legal framework for communications offences.
In the past decade the exponential rise in access to the internet, and in particular social media, has significantly increased online abuse such as infringement of privacy, harassment and ‘revenge porn’.
The law has resoundingly failed to keep pace with this change, and 96% of malicious communications offences which are recorded still do not result in a charge.
The Report identifies various lacunas in the current criminal law framework, with particular reference to the non-consensual sharing of private imagery and ‘doxing’ (the sharing of personal identifying information with malicious intent).
It is clear that reform is necessary and the Report’s recommendations include:
- Consideration of whether there should be more stringent penalties available to punish the most harmful privacy breaches;
- Consolidation and renovation of a confusing matrix of overlapping communications offences;
- Provision in the Communications Act 2003 for communications sent over a private network such as Bluetooth; and
- Clarification of ambiguous terminology such as ‘gross offensiveness,’ ‘obscenity’ and ‘indecency’, which create confusion for both prosecutors and the public.
Jake Rudman, one of our Reputation Protection lawyers, said: “It is encouraging that the Commission has recognised the legislative deficiencies in this area.
“The law has failed to keep up with rapid and impactful developments in communication technology and the scope for the devastating harm that can be suffered by victims of cyber bullying, online harassment and revenge porn.”