Would police powers over websites be good for consumers?
For some reason, the authorities feel they don't quite have enough say in our lives just yet. So next up on the road to Orwellian dystopia? The Police having the ability to shut down any website they choose, without the need for judicial intervention.
Proposals have been put forward by Nominet (which manages .uk domain names) to allow the body to close any website suspected of criminal activity. Under the new rules, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) would not require a conviction or even a warrant to request that a website is taken down. The proposals are just that at the moment, with no timetable as to when they may come into force, although Nominet is seeking comments and views before moving forward.
The worry isn't that such rules would put an end to criminal activity, but that providing the power to shut down websites without judicial intervention would see it used with impunity. Existing laws are so often subverted to suit the agendas of others, and the authorities hardly have a grasp on technology as it stands.
A case in point is that of Paul Chambers, the Twitter user who made a joke about blowing up Robin Hood airport. Any prosecution under existing terrorism laws didn't stand a chance, due to the fact there was no intent, malice or capability (and neither the airport nor the police at the time considered the tweet a serious threat), so the CPS prosecuted Chambers using law from the 1930s aimed at protecting female telephonists from nuisance calls. And won. In this sort of environment, what would constitute 'criminal activity' on a website?
There's one possible benefit for consumers, however - the documentation on Nominet's consultation not only concerns the likes of SOCA, but calls for Trading Standards to be involved in further discussions on what shape the policy will take. Perhaps there's some thought being given to dealing with retail and consumer-facing sites that continually flout the law. Still, what are the chances of a perfectly legitimate retailer being taken down in this scenario?