Paul Chambers, a 28-year-old Yorkshire resident, had his conviction for making a “menacing electronic communication” to blow up Robin Hood Airport (DSA) near Doncaster, U.K., thrown out by London’s High Court on Friday, July 27, 2012, as reported on that date by the Daily Mirror, Reuters News Service, Russia Today, and other global media bureaus.
The British accounting trainee claimed that he had sent the tweet as a joke to his 600 Twitter followers in January 2010, after the airport had been closed by a snowstorm. He was just venting his frustration over his cancelled flight from Doncaster to Belfast for a blind date with a woman he had met via Twitter.
The Doncaster Magistrates’ Court was not amused. In May 2010, they assessed Chambers the equivalent of $1,550 dollars in fines and administrative costs, claiming that his remarks violated the Communications Act 2003, which prohibits sending “by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”
In reversing that decision, the Royal High Court in London flatly disagreed with the lower court’s ruling, saying, “We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the Crown Court that this ’tweet’ constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it. On this basis, the appeal against conviction must be allowed.”
A detailed attached video clip with more information about this case also accompanies this report.
Lawyers for Mr. Chambers had argued that his remarks were taken out of content, and would be similar to find William Shakespeare guilty of inciting murder for writing in his play Henry VI – Part 2, “Let’s kill all the lawyers.”
It may have been a stretch to compare Chambers with the Bard, but the appeals court nevertheless got the point.
The British press has been praising the decision as a victory for free speech, and a blow to arbitrary, authoritarian government actions.
Mr. Chambers’ attorney John Cooper was delighted by the court’s ruling, calling it a milestone decision and saying to the BBC, “It’s a very big decision both nationally and internationally for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who use Facebook and Twitter. It means that if you intend to make a joke and if what you do is a joke, however bad a joke that is, you cannot be prosecuted.”
That may be the case in Britain, but as the familiar warning goes, “Don’t try this at home.”
Both the TSA and individual state jurisdictions in the United States have their own interpretation on what constitutes a terrorist threat.
Just recall what happened to a couple arriving at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) from the U.K. in January, 2012 as we had previously reported.
Leigh Van Bryan, a 26-year-old Irish citizen and his British girlfriend, 24-year-old Emily Banting from Birmingham, England were arrested, handcuffed, and detained for having sent Twitter messages which the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considered as terrorist threats. They even spent 12 hours in a holding cell at Los Angeles County Jail.
Their denial of entry into the U.S. was the result of two messages sent from Mr. Bryan’s Twitter account indicating that they were going to “destroy America” and “dig up Marilyn Monroe”. The DHS did not think those remarks were a joke either, and did not accept the pair’s explanation that the messages simply meant they intended to “party hard” and have a good time.
As any writer knows, words can be powerful. Even Mitt Romney learned that lesson after his unfavorable comments about the 2012 London Olympics almost caused an international incident just a few days ago. Since airport authorities take a literal interpretation of social media messages, one should save such jokes for bar crawling and other friendly gatherings.
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