Many will commend the recent demand by Home Secretary Amber Rudd that social media providers hand over the encrypted messages of terror suspects.
I wish her well, but fear cyber crime can only flourish if we fail to update legislation to combat it.
The new Abusive and Sexual Harm Act which makes it easier to prosecute revenge porn – where intimate images are shared without consent – is one step in the right direction.
Last year slightly over 50 per cent of crime committed in Scotland had an internet basis. Cyber crime costs Scottish business £2 billion, while, depending on which report you read, between 10 and 40 per cent of adults have experienced online abuse. Every day we read about cyber bullying, revenge porn, trolling, virtual mobbing and vulnerable youngsters being driven to suicide.
But if you are the victim of an abusive attack by someone using Facebook or Twitter, police will sympathise and give protection if necessary, but they won’t contact the social media platform, nor will they delete the account sending the offensive messages.
They may point out that the messages could be from a false ID. But while they may have the image, URL, phraseology, cryptic messages, spelling and defamatory comments, it’s insufficient evidence in Scots law. When someone signs up to Facebook, they agree to be subject to US law.
Accounts made by children under the age of 13, and fake accounts are not uncommon. Before the general election, Facebook confirmed it had deleted ‘tens of thousands’ of UK fake accounts. What if you do want to raise a complaint? Facebook has no UK call centre and letters are unanswered. Rattle their cage – as did the BBC reporter who recently examined their ambivalence to indecent images – you may end up threatened with legal action.
UK law in the form of the Computer Misuse Act or Malicious Communications Act is inadequate to deal with social media abuses. On rare occasions that a case reaches a Scottish court, police have to fall back on the catch-all, relatively minor charge of breach of the peace.
Updating legislation, much of which relates to print media and predates the internet, is vital. The setting up of false Facebook accounts in another’s name or posting offensive messages should be a criminal offence. It must be made easier for Police Scotland to be given the warrant to seize the electronic device of a suspect, to contact Facebook and Twitter directly, so abusive accounts can be deleted and the public should be able to contact cyber crime officers and Facebook and Twitter directly without having to negotiate a Byzantine bureaucracy.
In 2014 the director of GCHQ said Twitter, Whatsapp and Facebook have become the command and control network of choice of terrorist organisations. Recent atrocities have, surely, highlighted the inadequacy of current legislation.
John Lloyd is a writer. He lives in Inverkeithing, Fife.