While you can take this post as support for “free speech” and “protection of our right to privacy on the internet” I am doing neither. I am simply taking forth the point I made in my previous post on careless emailing.

The truth is, everything you say or do on the internet is real. While the medium may be virtual, the implications and repercussions are real world! Your candid blog posts, your moody Facebook status, your random tweet or retweet can get you into real trouble.

Because today more than ever before, the internet is an extension of our conscious and unconscious minds. It representative of mass social behavior and trends within… with individual collectivism and variations being demonstrated 24/7/365.

Take for example, the curious case of Paul Chambers, who’s harmless emotional tweet at being stranded at an airport, led him to get arrested on a terrorism charge!

ACCORDING TO ACCOUNTS CARRIED ON GREEN’S BLOG AND IN THE BRITISH MEDIA, THE 27-YEAR-OLD WAS ALARMED WHEN HEAVY SNOW CLOSED ROBIN HOOD AIRPORT, FROM WHICH HE WAS DUE TO FLY IN ORDER TO SEE A FRIEND HE HAD MET ONLINE.

IN A MESSAGE POSTED TO DOZENS OF FOLLOWERS ON JANUARY 6, HE STATED: “ROBIN HOOD AIRPORT IS CLOSED. YOU’VE GOT A WEEK AND A BIT TO GET [IT] TOGETHER, OTHERWISE I’M BLOWING THE AIRPORT SKY HIGH!!”

THE TWEET MIGHT HAVE FADED INTO THE OBSCURITY OF INTERNET HAD IT NOT BEEN DISCOVERED BY AN AIRPORT DUTY MANAGER BROWSING THE INTERNET FIVE DAYS LATER. THE MANAGER FORWARDED THE OFFENDING TWEET TO HIS STATION MANAGER, AND – EVEN THOUGH THE THREAT WAS DEEMED “NON-CREDIBLE” – IT WAS PASSED ON TO POLICE.

ON JANUARY 13, A WEEK AFTER THE POST, CHAMBERS WAS ARRESTED AND QUESTIONED. THE CASE FILE NOTES THAT “THERE IS NO EVIDENCE AT THIS STAGE THAT THIS IS ANYTHING OTHER THAN A FOOLISH COMMENT POSTED ON TWITTER AS A JOKE FOR ONLY HIS CLOSE FRIENDS TO SEE”, BUT HE WAS CHARGED AND CONVICTED IN ANY CASE…

While on one hand the authorities acted zealously to take action on the matter, the incident sparked a snowballing outrage across the internet by regular people all over the world who re-tweeted the original with an “#IamSpartacus” hashtag! At last count there were over 5,000 tweets coming out in support of Paul Chambers, making it one of the top trending topics on Twitter!

One example: From @Aprilly

And the Tweet from the Airport in question (?!)

A SPOKESWOMAN FOR SOUTH YORKSHIRE POLICE, WHICH ORIGINALLY ARRESTED CHAMBERS, SCOFFED AND SAID “NO” WHEN ASKED IF POLICE PLANNED ON ARRESTING ANY OF CHAMBERS’S ONLINE FANS. BUT SHE REFUSED TO ANSWER WHEN ASKED WHY THE THOUSANDS OF JOKEY THREATS TO BLOW ROBIN HOOD AIRPORT “SKY HIGH” WOULD BE TREATED ANY DIFFERENTLY FROM CHAMBERS’S ORIGINAL TWEET THAT RESULTED IN HIS ARREST.

Now if you think this cannot happen in India, think twice. No I am not talking about the extralegal nonsense around long journey of Rohinton Mistry or the legal high-handedness in the arrest of a CEO in an MMS case but the fact that anything you say online can and will be held against you in a court of law!

The fact is you cannot make loose comments online without the law looking in on you, as is mentioned in this related article in Times of India –

IF YOU THOUGHT ONLY THE ENGLISH LAW WAS HUMOURLESS AND THAT IN INDIA DOING A CHAMBERS WOULD NOT GET ONE ARRESTED, THEN YOU ARE WRONG.

“A THREAT IS A THREAT, IRRESPECTIVE OF THE CONTEXT IT IS MADE IN,” SAYS SANJAY PANDEY, AN IPS OFFICER AND E-SECURITY EXPERT LAUDING THE ACTION TAKEN BY THE UK COURT. INDIA’S INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AMENDMENT ACT OF 2008, SECTION 66 A SAYS: “ANY PERSON WHO SENDS, BY MEANS OF COMPUTER RESOURCE OR A COMMUNICATION DEVICE, ANY INFORMATION THAT IS GROSSLY OFFENSIVE OR HAS A MENACING CHARACTER SHALL BE PUNISHED WITH IMPRISONMENT WHICH MAY EXTEND TO THREE YEARS WITH A FINE.”

PANDEY, LIKE THE UK JUDGE, FELT THAT THE TWEET WAS MENACING AND SO THE ARREST, WELL-DESERVED. =THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THAT IN INDIA, THE ARREST WOULD HAPPEN ONLY IF SOMEONE INFORMS THE POLICE ABOUT SUCH A POST.

Now that you got the point, watch the original source of the phrase “I Am Spartacus!” in the video above!

1 COMMENT

  1. it’s not about free speech, its about safety. i think the authorities are right in investigating the matter and taking action. it should and will make people think twice before posting threatening messages online.

    every irresponsible takement online whether relevant or not adds to the workload of our already stretched law enforcement agencies. it would be nice if responsible citizens don’t add to this list in the name of “free speech”

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