Bulger injunction ridicules British Internet law

Outdated laws make the worldwide secrecy order unenforceable outside the United Kingdom

Fears that the new identities of the Bulger killers will be exposed on the Internet have revived criticisms of the British legal system being powerless to control the distribution of information online.

The High Court injunction granted to protect the anonymity of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson will not be enforceable outside of UK jurisdiction, despite having a worldwide remit. Legal experts believe there is a high risk of a foreign Web site or vigilante group publishing details of the murderers online that could lead to the murderers' identification.

"The current legal system can't cope with such leaks -- there are traditional laws dealing with traditional media," said Yaman Akdeniz, director of Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties. "Past examples show that the British legal system is not capable of stopping the circulation of information on the Internet."

According to Robin Bynoe, partner at city law firm Charles Russell, there is no practical way of enforcing the secrecy order outside of the UK. Parents of the teenagers who murdered Liverpool toddler James Bulger, are concerned that Britons could access leaked information about their sons' whereabouts through a foreign publication on the Net. The mother of Venables has voiced fears that her son will be tracked down by a vigilante group and murdered "within four weeks".

"The risk is considerable as it only takes one person to publish something online," said Bynoe. "But this is most likely to be by the press rather than a vigilante group, as vigilantes won't have access to this kind of information."

However, the anonymity and freedom of the Internet makes it possible for anyone to set up a Web site and publish information online. Akdeniz believes that a leak of the killers' identities is unlikely to happen as a single publication, but will be linked to and republished several hundred times. "Once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no way of getting it back in," he said.

Recent blunders by the News of the World in wrongly "naming and shaming" British paedophiles raises further concerns that innocent teenagers could be named online as the Bulger killers. "I'm most concerned about the moral panic and hysteria that may follow the boys' release... people need to be careful about relying on information on the Net," said Akdeniz.

A series of death threats against Venables and Thompson have already been posted on a Web site, where a "Justice for Jamie Bulger" petition has been signed by more than 2,200 people.

Go to ZDNet UK's Net Crime News Section to read all about online perils and dangers.

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