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Big Brother Watch: UK needs reform of communication laws

The civil liberties organisation Big Brother Watch has released the findings of its report into the UK’s digital communication laws.

According to the report, much of the legislation currently in place is outdated and ill-equipped to deal with modern phenomena like social media.

Read more: UK parliament pushes to reclassify Internet as a public utility

In total, 6,329 people were charged under either the Communications Act of 2003 or the Malicious Communications Act of 1988, in the period between November 2010 and November 2013. Big Brother Watch believes that the number of arrests indicates that the two Acts are stifling freedom of speech in the country.

Section 127 of the Communications Act, which is often invoked when convicting someone of misusing digital media, can be traced back to the 1930 Post Office (Amendment) Act, highlighting how outdated the legislation is.

Big Brother Watch argues that Section 127 should be repealed and that a full review of government policy towards communications should be undertaken.

“The laws were formulated before social media existed, with the intention of addressing the issue of one-to-one communications, not the one-to-many communications platforms that now exist,” the report reads.

It is also argues that the UK government should not criminalise causing offence, particularly when what is and isn’t offensive is such a grey area.

In the forward, John Cooper QC praised the work carried out by Big Brother Watch in protecting our freedoms and liberties.

“This Report does us all a great service in highlighting in clear terms the problems that the present criminal law has with adapting to the fresh and vibrant world of Social Media. It sets into context the urgent need for a rationalisation of existing law to reflect the new mediums at a time when cash strapped Police Forces across the Country are struggling to cope with Social Media related complaints,” he wrote.

“Perhaps the most palpable effect of this powerful Report will be to remind all of us that for the law to be respected and trusted, it must be both relevant and above all fit for purpose.”

Read more: Teen arrested after ‘threatening’ police with emojis

The Big Brother Watch report, “Careless Whispers: How speech is policed by outdated communications legislation,” can be found in full here.

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.