Man criminalised for offensive tweet

Via Charlotte Gore, Jack of Kent reports that Paul Chambers has been found guilty under the Communications Act 2003 for messaging a somewhat bad taste joke about blowing up an airport from his twitter account. He has received a large fine, a criminal record and lost his job. The case demonstrates two key things:

1. The willingness of the Crown Prosecution Service to push for extraordinary, unreasonable and aberrant interpretations of particular messages. After all, jokes about airport bombs are sufficiently common to have been scripted into mainstream comedies like Friends. There was no evidence whatsoever that Paul Chambers had any intention to carry out the contents of his joke, or to cause distress.

2. The wide reach of laws regarding what many would see as private communications. Twitter messages tend to be read by voluntary subscribers and it is easy to avoid the messages of particular users, so it seems perverse to assume these messages could be capable of causing distress or harrasment, unless there was a genuine threat attached to the words.

The result is that it cannot be assumed that any widely drafted law will receive some sort of common sense interpretation via the criminal justice system. Like the extreme porn law, the Communications Act is part of a network of laws and regulations that make it possible to arrest, charge and occasionally convict people for a broad range of ordinary and non-harmful expressions.