As far as the WWW is concerned, the issue of crime and criminal liability has so far played a fairly low key role. What might be described as webcrime can be fairly readily divided into three aspects. The first of these, with regard to webserver and webpage owners, is the provision of illegal material for display or downloading via a webpage or link from a web page. The second, with regard to those browsing the Web, is the display or downloading of illegal material via a webpage or link from a web page. Finally, there is the issue of hacking: i.e. illegal access to a webserver, the unauthorised altering or deleting of parts of a webserver, or the illegal interception of communications resulting from the use of a feature of a webpage e.g. the interception of credit card numbers collected by the use of the forms function.
That having been said, the WWW was only in its infancy in 1993, and it appears that its development, combined with the increasing availability of Internet services outside the academic sphere, has led to an increase in both webservers containing pornography and those with web browsers who wish to access it. Examination of sites containing pornographic material, appears to show that they fall into two main categories;
Of these two categories, it is the latter that appears to be the major area of growth. Those in the former category are usually individuals who are at universities, or who have Internet access via their employer, or via an Internet service provider (ISP). In general, most WWW sites, particularly those based at academic institutions, are keen to avoid any problems with hard or soft core pornography, and a great deal of control can be exercised by peer pressure from other institutions without the aid of the law, even where the law of the country involved does not forbid such material. For instance, WWW servers at the University of Delft (hard & soft core) and the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (CNAM) (soft core), which carried pornographic pictures that had been downloaded by automatic newsfeed from Usenet groups(80), have both been forced to remove the offending material due to pressure from their governing bodies(81). The situation in the US has tended to be more problematic in this regard due to the First Amendment issues involved(82).
The unauthorised access and alteration of webservers or webpages, and the interception of information collected by WWW mechanisms, would both appear to be covered by existing criminal law(84). In such cases, any institution which plays unwitting host to a hacker is unlikely to be held liable for his actions, particularly where precautions have been taken to both minimise unauthorised user access, and to inform legitimate users of their responsibilities. By way of example, most universities, which were once easy access points to the Internet for would-be hackers because of their open access ethos, have taken action to severely restrict or deny guest user access to their systems, and made it very clear to bona fide users that where unauthorised access to other computer systems from a university system is discovered, it will be both investigated and punished..
While the law of the contempt of court was developed by the judiciary through the common law, it has been modified to some extent by the Contempt of Court Act 1981(90) which makes it an offence of strict liability to publish a
"...publication [which] includes any speech writing, broadcast, cable programme or other communication in whatever form, which is addressed to the public at large, or any section of the public(91)"where such a publication
"... creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced.(92)"
The fact that it is a "strict liability" offence means that an offence occurs even where the person making the publication did not intend to interfere with the course of justice. The broad definition of "publication" would cover USENET messages, e-mail messages sent to mailing lists and WWW pages. The publication of material relating to a case will only be an offence, where it occurs when the case is still sub judice. The statutory "strict liability" rule is only applied during the period that the case is "active" and the definition of "active" is laid down in the Act. However, where an individual knows or has good reason to believe that proceedings are imminent, and publishes material which is likely or calculated to impede or prejudice the course of justice before the point laid down in the Act as the time when the case is "active" this may be a common law contempt.Actions which would commonly draw charges of contempt include:
The enforcement of the law of contempt has been rendered more difficult in modern times, by the ability of individuals to publish material, in both traditional(100) and digital media(101), in countries outside the court's jurisdiction. The Internet has in many ways exacerbated this situation. It has been suggested with regard to the Internet, that where the court cannot bring contempt proceedings against the original publisher, it may seek to do so against the Internet Service provider which distributed the material within the court's jurisdiction. Such an approach would, however, potentially create similar problems to those found in libel cases, where Internet Service Providers have argued that the sheer volume of e-mail traffic, or the vast number of WWW pages on their systems make it impossible to check them all for possible libellous statements. As with libel, the courts are likely to treat rather more favourably (with regard to punitive measures) those ISPs and website owners who, once notified that material likely to constitute the basis for a contempt offence, is held on their systems, do everything in their power to remove it as rapidly as possible.
73 For example Opportunity Makes a Thief: An Analysis of Computer Abuse, the fifth triannual report of the Audit Commission on the extent of computer abuse and fraud in the UK (1994, HMSO Publications).
74 See Appendix XX
75 Not applicable in Scotland.
76 See s172 (8) for those parts of the Act applicable to Scotland.
77 And there seems to be no end to the number of articles like the one run by The Guardian, 24 August 1994 somewhat unoriginally entitled 'Computer going down' which noted that a University of Wales computer was put out of action for two days due to an overload caused by a student downloading pornography from the US.
78 'Industry focuses on cleaning up its act' The Guardian 27 September 1994 at 8.
79 Such as http://www.playboy.com and http://www.penthouse.com.
80 e.g. alt.binaries.pictures.erotica and alt.binaries.pictures.blondes
81 And, it must be said, apparently due to massive overloads on the machines concerned as individuals attempted to access the pictures.
82 Although there have been interesting developments with regard to 'jurisdiction hopping' by law enforcement agencies, see a recent US case reported last year (28 July 1994) on the cyberia-l mailing list
"Jury Convicts Couple in Computer-Porn Trial" MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- A federal jury convicted a California couple today of transmitting obscene pictures over a computer bulletin board. The case has raised questions, in this age of international computer networks, about a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that defines obscenity by local community standards. Prosecutor Dan Newsom, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the trial was the first he knows of for computer bulletin board operators charged under federal law with transmitting pornography featuring sex by adults. Robert and Carleen Thomas, both 38, of Milpitas, Calif., were convicted of transmitting sexually obscene pictures through interstate phone lines via their members-only Amateur Action Bulletin Board System. The Thomases were convicted on 11 criminal counts, each carrying maximum sentences of five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Thomas was acquitted on a charge of accepting child pornography mailed to him by an undercover postal inspector. The Thomases refused to comment after the verdict. They remain free on $20,000 bond to await sentencing, for which no date was set. Defense lawyer Richard Williams said his clients will appeal, arguing the jury was wrongly instructed on how to apply the Supreme Court's standard on obscenity. The trial raised questions of how to apply First Amendment free-speech protections to "cyberspace," the emerging community of millions of Americans who use computes and modems to share pictures and words on every imaginable topic. Williams argued unsuccessfully before trial that prosecutors sought out a city for the trial where a conservative jury might be found. "This case would never have gone to trial in California," he said. During the week-long trial jurors were shown photographs carried over the Thomases bulletin board featuring scenes of bestiality and other sexual fetishes. Their conviction also covers videotapes they sent to Memphis via United Parcel Service. The videotapes were advertised over the bulletin board.
83 (Unreported). He received an 18 month jail sentence for those activities in November 1995.
84 Particularly s1-3 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990, and the Interception of Communications Act 1985
85 See s42 for those sections of the Act applicable to Scotland.
86 See The Public Order Act 1986 s18-19, 23.
87 Ibid. s17
88 But not in Scotland.
89 See Bailey, S.H., Harris, D.J. & Jones B.L. Civil Liberties: Cases and Materials 3rd ed. Butterworths 1991 - Chapter 6, Freedom of Expression: contempt of court & Smith, G. (ed.) Internet Law and Regulation FT Law and Tax 1996 .
90 However the CCA 1981 does not codify or replace entirely the common law. It does however apply to Scotland (s15).
91 S2 (1) CCA 1981.
92 S2 (2) CCA 1981.
93 See A-G v TVS Television (1989) The Times 7 July, (DC).
94 See S-G v Henry  COD 307.
95 See R v Socialist Worker Printers and Publishers Ltd, Ex parte A-G  QB 637 (DC).
96 See Pickering v Liverpool Daily Post and Echo Newspapers plc  1 All ER 622 (HL).
97 S3 (1) CCA 1981
98 S3 (2) CCA 1981
99 S4 (1) CCA 1981
100 Consider, for instance, the Spycatcher saga, where the book in question was freely available outside the UK, but could not be published or excerpted in the UK.
101 A good example of this concerns the trials in Ontario, Canada, of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernado. During the trial of Karla Homolka for the murders of two teenaged girls, Kristen French and Leslie Muhaffy, the court ordered a publication ban on reports of the trial in Ontario, in order to ensure a fair trial for her husband Paul Bernado (a.k.a. Paul Teale), also charged with the murders (See Action No. 125/93, [R. v. Bernardo],  O.J. No. 2047. Despite the ban, information was widely available, due to coverage by US newspapers, cable and TV stations, and at least one Website based at a US University. A UseNet newsgroup set up to disseminate and discuss information about the trial, alt.fan.karla-homolka was censored by many Canadian Universities.
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