Will Slow-Moving Laws Ever Catch Fast-Moving Tech?

A British man convicted of sending a "menacing" Tweet has been exonerated by appealing to a law passed in 1935. How will our legal system ever accommodate the speed of technology? 

What's the Latest Development?

Paul Chambers, a British national convicted for posting a Tweet in which, out of frustration at the closure of an airport due to inclement weather, he threatened to blow the airport "sky high," has been exonerated. "After a long legal battle Mr. Chambers had his May 2010 conviction quashed Friday on the basis that the tweet did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character." At one point during the trail, it was pointed out that the same legal standard could be used to convict Sir John Betjeman, the British poet who wrote, "Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough," a town near London whose drab reputation made it the ideal setting for "The Office", the UK sitcom about the drudgery of office work. 

What's the Big Idea?

The case highlights the difficulty of applying a slow-moving legal framework to fast-moving technology. Though Chambers was prosecuted for violating the Communications Act of 2003, the court's ruling makes reference to the Post Office Act of 1935, which references any "message by telephone, or any telegram." Some say the legal system will always being playing catch up when it comes to prosecuting high-tech crimes. And while a possible solution could be to make laws with broad-based definitions, that risks criminalizing future behavior which, following the dictates of common sense (the legal system's age-old nemesis), should clearly be permitted.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

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