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Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Colin Green
Ministerial Support Team

Jonathan Bishop

2-4 Cockspur Street


London SW1Y 5DH
www.culture.gov.uk

Tel
020 7211 6000
Fax
020 7211 6309
colin.green@
culture.gsi.gov.uk

Your Ref:
Our Ref: 210173/CAG/24

jonathanbishop@glamorgan.coop
12 September 2012

Dear Mr Bishop
Thank you for your email of 14 June to the Minister at the Ministry of Justice about Internet
trolling. Your correspondence was transferred to this Department as the office responsible for
Internet and telecommunications governance policy. I have been asked to reply on behalf of
the Department, and I am very sorry for the delay.
Coincidentally, Nicole Brookes won her court case with Facebook (which Facebook did not
contest) at the same time that the Ministry of Justice was incorporating amendments into the
Defamation Bill for the Committee stage of its progress. This coincidence may have given
rise to the mistaken impression that the two things were connected. Some so-called trolling
may, however, come under the definition of defamation.
Secondly, while there is often an issue of identifying trollers (and we note the Facebook
judgement about the release of trolls user-ID details), this is quite a different issue from any
instances where requests for permission to monitor specific individuals are made by
authorities under RIPA. These things ought not be confused with each other.
In relation to another of your points, criminal prosecutions have already been successfully
progressed against incidences of so-called trolling under Section 127 of the Communications
Act, 2003, and Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1998, both resulting in
imprisonment terms. Section 127 of the Communications Act was used to advance over
2,000 prosecutions last year. An offence under Section 127 of the Communications Act can
result in a jail term of up to six months.
It would also be a misunderstanding to suppose that mirroring the Digital Economy Act (DEA)
makes sense in the context you raise. Under the DEA, it is for an Intellectual Property Rights
rights holder to approach Ofcom when they have evidence that their rights are being
infringed. It would be something altogether different for Ofcom to have any role of policing or
reacting to any undesirable posts found online, and the Department does not envisage any
such role for Ofcom.

Ministerial Support Team

It is worth noting that, in the main, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not liable for the
content that is carried over their networks. There would obviously be problems with the vast
amounts of material hosted, and ultimately that it is not for ISPs to determine what is or is not
unlawful. You may be aware that the Defamation Bill proposes that an ISPs immunity from
prosecution becomes further protected if they are challenged by someone who claims that
they are being defamed online and the ISP facilitates contact with the alleged offender. Their
immunity would become compromised if they do not do so. If they cannot identify the poster
of the material, then, under the new proposals, they must remove the material.
It may be worth adding some comments about Facebook regarding the Nicola Brookes
trolling case and existing governance processes that Facebook has in place to address any
harassment on their site by a minority of malicious individuals, who exist online, just as they
do offline. Facebook have a real name policy, not allowing anonymity, and provide their
users with tools to block people or report content which they find threatening so that
Facebook can remove it quickly, as well as fake profiles.
We understand from Facebook that their policy is to comply with the UK legal framework for
disclosure of user data to third parties in that, when there is legal justification and obligation,
they share information such as IP addresses and basic subscriber information with relevant
law enforcement authorities; and comply with legally-authorised requests for such disclosure
by private individuals.
However, ultimately, IP address data may not be useful; IP addresses are frequently shared
or recycled, making it difficult to identity a specific individual. Facebook are of course
concerned to combat trolling and have in place a reporting infrastructure to enable people to
have content removed quickly, not least compared to, say, anonymous blogs where it can be
more difficult to take action. Facebooks co-operation with the police in the UK is signalled by
the imprisonment of Sean Duffy.
Thank you, again, for writing.
Yours sincerely
Colin Green
Ministerial Support Team