Electronic communications offences

Intercepting communications

Under s1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 it is an offence to intentionally and without lawful authority intercept in any part of the United Kingdom any communication in the course of its transmission by means of a public postal service, a public communications system or a private communication system.  This means that any person who, for example, modifies or otherwise interferes with the system or its operation is guilty of the offence.  Additionally, monitoring the system’s transmissions at the time they are made, so that the communication is made available to somebody other than the sender or the intended recipient comprises the offence.  The offence would be made out, for example, where a person intercepts an email being transmitted through a telecommunications network to the intended recipient.

Under s1(5) of the Act, conduct is lawful, for the purposes of s1, if and only ifit is authorised by or under s3 or s4 (which deal with interceptions without a warrant and the power to provide interceptions respectively), orit takes place in accordance with a warrant under s5 (interception with a warrant), or it is in exercise, in relation to any stored communication, of any statutory power that is exercised for the purpose of obtaining information or of taking possession of any document or other property.

Exceptions in a private communications system

Under s1(6) of the Act intercepting a communication being transmitted through private communications network is lawful if done by either the person who has the right to control the operation or use of the system, or a person who has the express or implied consent of this person.  For the purposes of this section, control has a similar meaning to that which it has in the context of the Computer Misuse Act 1990, and means to authorise or forbid (see R v Stanford [2006], applying the reasoning of R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate and Another, ex parte Government of the USA [2000]).

Offences under the Communications Act 2003

Under s127(1) of the Communications Act 2003 it is a criminal offence to transmit messages through a public electronic communications network which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing.  This applies to emails and text messages.  The offence also applies to pornographic material, either written or pictorial.  Additionally, under s127(2) of the Act, aperson is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false.  So, under this section, the offence is made out if a person sends just one false message, knowing that it false, for one of the purposes mentioned, such as causing annoyance.  These offences can only be committed through a public communications network.  An offence is also committed if a person makes persistent use of a public electronic communications network for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another.