It’s not the wild west

As a civilized society, we have fought long and hard for the laws of our lands.  We recognize that our actions don’t affect us alone but have consequences for other people and laws exist to make sure that we are all protected and society runs smoothly.   In the UK we have not only our state laws but we also signed up to the Human Rights Act which is an international law.

Under Article 12 of the HRA:

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation.

Our right to privacy is particularly important to us.  If you send someone a letter through the post, you don’t expect that letter to end up on the front page of the local newspaper or the bulletin board at work.  We expect to be able to enjoy a private life and private communications and the law agrees this is a fundamental human right.  However, when it comes to electronic communications we seem to think invading someone’s privacy is fair game and the laws of the land are all but forgotten.

Some years ago, a ‘friend’ of mine posted an email I sent her on Facebook for all her 250 friends to view.  These people, most of whom didn’t know me from Adam or know anything about my 16 year relationship with this person, then judged the contents and I was found severely wanting.  No-one condemned her though for making a private letter public which, if you’re not aware, is against the law.

And now, a private Facebook post I sent to a small group of friends and family has been printed off and subject to a public discussion at the Annual General Meeting of my Camera Club. Instead of condemning the person who shared this private communication, however, I’ve been told off by several people for putting in on Facebook in the first place, despite the fact it was not a public post and was meant for my friends and no-one else.

“Facebook isn’t private!” is the cry.  Why not?  If you and a group of friends have a conversation over dinner in a restaurant you don’t expect one of your friends to be secretly taping it and sharing it with the universe the next morning.  That’s because you trust your friends and have some expectation of privacy.

This expectation, and legal right, to privacy is particularly important for people who live in isolation and depend on the internet for another of their fundamental Human Rights: the “right to create and maintain social relationships”.  I spend a minimum 17 hours of every day in bed and many of my friends are either totally housebound or bedridden.  As human beings, we have a basic need to interact with others and this includes group situations.  Facebook is a great way of doing that, particularly when you have very limited energy and one little post can be sent to 30 people at the click of a button.  So to have my fundamental human need for interaction with the world criticized infuriates me.  I don’t have the option of popping down the pub with my mates for a pint and a gossip, or chatting round the water cooler at work, so if I choose to have a natter with a group of friends on Facebook, in private and about any subject under the sun, that is my fundamental human right.

I have no idea why people think that just because they’re on a computer the laws of the land don’t apply and their morals go out the window.  Trolling, bullying, death threats, stalking and libel are just a few of the crimes committed every day online by people who wouldn’t dream of acting in that way outside of cyberspace.  It’s almost as if the Internet is the Wild West and we’ve regressed a couple hundred years to a totally lawless society where, if someone only looks at us the wrong way, we pull out our gun and shoot them dead.

The shitty part is, they get away with it.  Despite the fact there are laws in place to stop this kind of behaviour they’re almost impossible to implement.  I took legal advice over what has happened at my Camera Club, and while the Solicitor agreed I’d been legally slandered and my human right to privacy invaded, the Club has no money so it’s pointless suing them, it would cost me a small fortune to prosecute them and in any event the damage had already been done.

I am also discovering that people who are subjected to online or electronic abuses tend to be victim blamed in a BIG way and simply told the stay off the Internet.  No.  NO!  We have a basic human right to interract with other people and we should be allowed to do this in peace and safety whatever form it takes.   I most definitely should be able to chat privately to a group of friends without my conversation ending up as an Agenda item at a public meeting.

Here in the UK we have what’s called the Small Claims Court.  This is for people who have monetary issues of small value, eg. unpaid bills or problems with consumer goods, which involve law breaking but are considered too insubstantial to be heard by a Magistrates Court.  We need to have this for human rights violations.  At the moment, you can only take someone to court for defamation or invasion of privacy if you have shit loads of cash and are a public figure with a public reputation to uphold, yet this kind of thing can damage ordinary people just as much.  We need some way to redress this issue and a Small Human Rights Court would be just the job.


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