19 November 2008

The first 'cyber-bullying' hearing in the US.

BBC New Technology has reported the start of the much awaited MySpace 'cyber-bullying' hearing in the US. The facts of the case are very much well known to all by now and have been covered by CyberPanda in earlier posts. The Defendant has been charged with conspiracy and unlawful access to protected computers under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The act has traditionally been used to prosecute computers hackers. It has been applied in this instance as it is the only statute which deals , in the broadest sense, with the alleged acts of the Defendant.

The case presents a strong element of biais on the part of members of the jury as the facts of the case have been widely publicised in the media in the US and overseas. The element of prejudice will have to be carefully dealt with by the judge so as to ensure that members of the jury are aware of the nature of the charge in this case, namely unlawful access to protected computer rather than the charge of unlawful killing.

Beyond the element of biais (and the balancing act needed to deal with it), this hearing is a significant one as it is the first time that this statute has been applied to acts committed on social networking sites. The case also forms part of the series of cases which are emerging across the globe (e.g. the virtual killing of a life partner covered in an earlier post, which demonstrate that online acts in virtual communities do have an impact (even if only in the shape of a legal consequence) in the offline world.

The trial has been acknowledged as the first time the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used in a social networking case.

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