ONLINE LEGAL RIGHTS - LIBEL & PRIVACY

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USING A VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORK
Most Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are used within a commercial environment, but some wireless networks do not have strong enough security measures – for example, poor firewall management. This may lead to them being exploited for free internet access. A network intruder – or hacker – is in breach of the Computer Misuse Act with offences punishable by fines and/or conviction. The severity of the punishment is determined by what you do once you have gained access to the internal and private network and the valuable – sometimes sensitive – information stored on it.


ACCESSING ANOTHER PERSON’S SOCIALNETWORKING ACCOUNT
Recent research by internet security firm Trend Micro (http://uk.trendmicro.com) revealed that more than four out of 10 UK teenagers have logged into another person’s social-networking profile without that person’s permission. Another survey by security firm Sophos (www.sophos.com) found that 21 per cent of people have been ‘phished’ on a social-networking site such as Facebook (www.facebook.co.uk), Bebo (www.bebo.com) and MySpace (www.myspace.com) by hackers trying to gain access to their account details. Hacking – gaining unauthorized access to a computer system – is an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 (http://bit.ly/hack232). “Whether you have authorized access to the account or not is the key thing. If someone asks you to log in on their behalf, it is not against the law, but unauthorized access is. To keep accounts secure, make passwords hard to guess and update your anti-virus software,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.


POSTING DEFAMATORY COMMENTS ONLINE
The UK has strict libel laws covering the publication of statements that damage the reputation of an individual or company. Traditionally, claimants have used libel laws to sue journalists and their publishers. In terms of the web, libel now also applies to defamatory comments published on a forum, blog or website. The writer, the website owner and your ISP can be sued, so think carefully before posting any potentially derogatory comments online. If your target is identifiable and what you have written exposes them to ‘hatred, ridicule or contempt’, hurts their reputation or causes them to be ‘shunned or avoided’, you could end up in a civil court, defending an expensive libel claim. It would be up to you to prove your comments are true and, if you are not successful, you could pay out a lot of money in damages to compensate the claimant. See the BBC article ‘How to avoid libel and defamation’ (http://bit.ly/libel232) for more details. But don’t be too scared. Under the defence ‘fair comment’, you can post honestly held opinions, columns and reviews about a service being rubbish, for example, or your dislike of a particular celebrity. An advantage of the web over a newspaper is that content is less permanent and comments can be taken down in the event of a complaint. Struan Robertson, a legal director at law firm Pinsent Masons and editor of Out-Law (www.out-law.com) said: “If you have a blog, are a webmaster or forum moderator and are made aware of defamatory comments, you should act quickly in taking them down. The law says if you act ‘expeditiously’, your defence is ‘stronger’”.


CHANGING WIKIPEDIA ENTRIES
Anyone with internet access can make changes to the publicly editable pages on the free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). However, the site recognises that this public participation means the process is “vulnerable to certain kinds of abuse and counterproductive behaviour,” including vandalism, harassment of other users and disruptive behaviour. To prevent this, the Wikimedia Foundation warns that – under its Privacy policy – when investigating abuse, the IP addresses of users may be used to identify the source of the abusive behaviour. Recently, the High Court ordered Wikipedia to divulge the IP address of someone suspected of blackmail who edited the alleged victim’s Wikipedia entry. Although Wikipedia is outside the British courts’ jurisdiction, the Wikimedia Foundation said it would abide by the ruling. The message is that no-one can make changes to Wikipedia for suspected criminal reasons and expect to hide behind anonymity.


POSTING PHOTOS OF PEOPLE ONLINE
You do not necessarily need permission to take a photo of someone, but be careful how you use the image – for example, sharing it on Facebook (www.facebook.com) or Flickr (www.flickr.com). Protection of children is a big consideration and many people are concerned about ‘invasion of privacy’. Although the UK does not have a dedicated privacy law, Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (http:// bit.ly/priv232) gives people “the right to a private life” and the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998 (www.legislation.org.uk) protects how people’s information is processed. For example, the privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (www.ico.gov.uk), told Google that it should blur images of adults and children on its Street View service, but the ICO does ask for a commonsense approach. “It is not illegal to take a photo of someone in the street, but how it is used could lead to identification issues and a possible breach of the DPA. However, the DPA does not cover personal use and publication of online albums,” said an ICO spokeswoman.

Source of Information : WebUser January 28 2010

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