Victims of crime who believe that they were facilitated by online platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, should sue the social media in the civil courts, according to Shaun Sawyer, Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police.
Sawyer, who is also the policing head for human trafficking, was quoted in the Sunday Times newspaper. He claimed that the internet has become “a safe space for organised crime”, helping criminals to coordinate their activities and, often, to intimidate their victims.
He said that criminals are able to get away with this because they are protected by “liberal” internet rules. He is now urging members of the public to take the world’s internet giants – Facebook, Google, Apple, Snap and others – to court for abusing their position.
The Chief Constable suggested that criminals are avoiding punishment because technology companies are not doing enough to stop online abuse. “There has been pushback of ‘Oh, that is the job of the police’. Well, no, you regulate yourself,” he said.
Sawyer continued: “Victims now have a voice. The law now recognises that and the current legislation could be defunct. It’s a new world. Children are being raped online and the internet giants say ‘Oh, we couldn’t find it’. Well maybe you weren’t looking hard enough.”
In the newspaper interview, Sawyer said these companies are “very good” at creating technical solutions that can assist law enforcement officials.
However, many companies are simply choosing not to assist police forces, and he believes that criminals are running rampant on the internet.
“Their algorithms should be able to spot regular visitors, every contact leaves a trace, they have all the IP addresses,” said Sawyer.
“They know how to do that, and to proactively share information with law enforcement. It is no different to when I was a sergeant in Oxford Street working with shop security guards who gave me CCTV images.”
He believes that, in future, someone will say: “No, this is such a fundamental breach of human rights and you are not compliant with legislation, no matter who it is written by.”
However, bringing a legal action in the civil courts could also open-up ordinary individuals to hefty legal costs – including those of the organisations they sue, should they lose.
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