Wednesday, 27 June 2012 16:11
According to the new UK government proposals, website operators might soon have to identify users who have posted defamatory messages online, so that the victims of the respective messages may take legal action against the "trolls".
Presently in UK, a website operator is liable for everything that appears on its site and therefore it can be taken to court by anybody who claims something defamatory has been posted about him/her on the respective website. The websites are now removing content as soon as a defamation claim is made, irrespective of whether it is right or wrong.
"As the law stands, individuals can be the subject of scurrilous rumour and allegation on the web with little meaningful remedy against the person responsible. Website operators are in principle liable as publishers for everything that appears on their sites, even though the content is often determined by users,” says Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.
The UK Ministry of Justice is now proposing a Defamation Bill, which is under debate in the House of Commons, that will force operators to identify the creator of a defamatory message and to give that information to the victim so that he (she) may take action directly against the person having posted the defamatory content.
The government states that there will also be measures to strengthen freedom of speech and prevent false claims meant to get material removed. "It will be very important to ensure that these measures do not inadvertently expose genuine whistleblowers, and we are committed to getting the detail right to minimise this risk," said Clarke.
The present rule that currently counts each separate viewing of a controversial web page as a separate defamatory offence will be removed and a one-year time limit will be introduced to online defamation claims in order to stop people complaining about old articles.
However, privacy advocates are concerned about the possible abuse that the new bill might bring forth. Privacy International believes that a large part of the content posted by online trolls is not actually defamatory being rather “harassment, invasion of privacy or simply unpleasant but lawfully-expressed opinion” and is concerned that "gun-shy website operators will start automatically divulging user details the moment someone alleges defamation in order to shield themselves from libel actions".
“If the choice is between protecting users' anonymity and avoiding a potentially costly lawsuit, many small operators are not going to be overly concerned about whether or not a user has genuinely defamed the complainant," said Emma Draper, head of communications at Privacy International to BBC News.
For the time being, ISPs seem critical to the proposal as they will be forced to store more information about Internet usage and emails. The proposal will also force them to block all access to pornography websites unless customers specifically state otherwise.
Source: EDRI-gram "UK websites might have to identify “trolls” Number 10.12, June 20, 2012