'No need' for new Twitter laws

Times Series: An offensive message about diver Tom Daley was posted on Twitter An offensive message about diver Tom Daley was posted on Twitter

There is no need for new laws to govern how the police deal with abuse of the social media website Twitter, a senior police spokesman has said.

Recent cases, including the arrest of a teenager in connection with abusive tweets directed at Olympic diver Tom Daley and the jailing of a student for inciting racial hatred by tweeting about the footballer Fabrice Muamba, have sparked debate over the extent to which the forces of law and order should get involved in policing Twitter.

A representative of rank-and-file officers has warned that police are "stretched almost to breaking point" and cannot be expected to investigate "every instance of stupidity within Twitter".

Stuart Hyde, the Chief Constable of Cumbria, who speaks on e-crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that it was right for police to intervene where individuals' lives were being made a misery by Twitter "trolls", but insisted that it was important for forces to take a "common sense" approach.

He rejected calls for new laws to govern Twitter - the increasingly popular internet site where users can send messages of 140 characters or less - and said that problems may eventually be resolved by the website itself acting to root out abuse.

Asked if new laws were needed, Mr Hyde told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "No, I think we have got quite a lot of legislation, dating back to the Malicious Communications Acts of 1998 and 2003. There is a lot there that helps us and gives us the power to do stuff.

"This is a new technology, a new way of communicating, it has grown exponentially. There hasn't been separate legislation, so we are using legislation that wasn't particularly created for this, but it works reasonably well most of the time.

"If people come to us and say 'I am really upset, I've been offended, my life has been made a misery and I want somebody to do something about it', then yes the police should, whenever possible, try to help."

Police Federation spokesman Steve Evans warned that officers cannot be expected to investigate every complaint about abuse and offensive language on Twitter.

Mr Evans told Today: "The sheer scale of it is huge. Police resources are stretched almost to breaking point, so if we started trying to investigate every instance of stupidity within Twitter, then we would be really pushed. That doesn't mean to say we won't deal with criminal offences. If criminal offences are clearly there, then it is the police's job to investigate them."

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