posted Mar 02, 2001

British Child Justice and "Anonymity for Life" Misc.3/2/2001; 2:46:51 PM Note: Despite the title, this is not a story about privacy, it's a story about justice and a particularly unusual Internet effect.The story behind that link is relatively long. To summarize, many years ago two ten-year old boys brutally murdered a two-year old boy in Britain. You may recall the news story... I believe it was international and I seem to remember something about it. In 2001, the mandatory minimum jail sentance will be up (see details in story) and the two former children (now young adults) will be allowed to go free. In addition, in order to allow them a clean slate, the British judicial system has granted them anonymity, something I've not heard of in this country but that could well be my own ignorance; I'm not well versed in juvenile justice.This "anonymity" is a ban on the British media from publicizing the story or publishing any details that might allow people to link these adults to their former crimes, including appearance or whereabouts.The linked story refers to a petition circulating around claiming it's wrong for these people to go free, etc. etc. and the main thrust of the respone on Snopes.com is simply that it's too late for a petition to matter, as it's a done deal. However, there's an interesting wrinkle in the story that pertains to the international nature of the Internet:'The anonymity guarantee and publication ban were set in place by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the High Court's Family Division. She is convinced the pair would be genuinely at risk if their identities and locations were disclosed, hence her ruling. "Although the crime of these two young men was especially heinous, they have the right of all citizens to the protection of the law." ...'Dame Butler-Sloss banned the media from publishing any information leading to the identification or disclosure of whereabouts of Venables or Thompson, including photographs and descriptions of their appearance. She also banned, for 12 months, publication of information about their eight-year stay in local authority secure units. Even after that, confidential information relating to their treatment and therapy cannot be published. 'The judge has admitted she is aware the injunctions she has imposed might not be fully effective outside England and Wales. She has banned the domestic media from giving wider circulation to material from the Internet or media elsewhere if it is likely to breach the injunction.'It is difficult to prevent the spread of information internationally, even in those rare cases where it might be desirable to do so. I don't know about you, but personally I think it's a good thing to give these two another chance (they can be tried just like anyone else should they do anything else), and I think this is a justifiable case of a media gag. So I find it intriguing in this case that the Internet provides such a convenient and easy way around it.I've said this before, but it's still a difficult thing to internalize. This is a very real case, involving real people who might suffer real harm if the wrong people get a hold of information that leads them to the location of the boys. (Death threats have been received.) The Internet, because of its uncontrollable nature, could well be the vector that leads to harm that Britain could not prevent.In the hands of other writers, this would become a polemic for stricter Internet controls. To them I would simply reply that this sort of thing can absolutely not be stopped; there will always be things that are legal in one country but not another, and so this issue will always arise. My point here is simply that I think this is a great example, almost a textbook example, of the kind of problem that makes international harmonization of Internet policies a virtual impossibility. Food for thought.

 

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