Freedom of Speech?

Paul Chambers, a 26 year old English man, has been convicted of “sending a menacing electronic communication” because he Tweeted to his 600 followers after finding out that his flight to Northern Ireland had been canceled.  The Tweet in question?  “Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”

The Tweet was brought to the attention of airport management days later, but was deemed “non-credible”, and did not affect the operations of the airport.  Still, airport security’s procedures dictated that the message be passed on to Britain’s Special Branch.

He was arrested while at work, and has since lost his job. He was fined £385 (~$618), plus £600 (~$963) in costs.

He says that he never thought anyone would see it (except, of course, the 600 people who ‘follow’ him on Twitter), and didn’t expect anyone to take it seriously because it was “innocuous hyperbole”.

England has different standards of ‘free speech’ than we do here in America, but since 9/11, constraints both here and ‘across the pond’ are getting tighter.  This Tweet was discovered because an airport employee did a Twitter-Search of the words “Robin Hood Airport,” it was not discovered using any kind of special monitoring technology (like the wiretapping controversy during Bush’s presidency).  The Tweet was out there for all to see, if they wished to.

We are a bunch of Armchair Lawyers, here, and one of us is a real, honest-to-goodness lawyer.  So put on your litigating caps, and apply them to this case.  What do you think should have been done?

Applying American standards, do you think that the punishment – fines amounting to approximately $1500, and the loss of a job –  fits the crime?  Should he have been punished at all?  After all, a Tweet is “speech”, and therefore, protected by the Constitution.  Or, would this Tweet be considered akin to “yelling fire in a crowded theatre”, and be excluded from protection because it could cause havoc?

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28 Responses to Freedom of Speech?

  1. Joy says:

    I have to ponder this over. I’m not sure. I do know though that we have to be more careful what we say on the Internet and our “thoughts’ aren’t always taken in the manner we mean them.

  2. Jason says:

    I think my first reaction is that this guy got what he deserves. We live in a time where we must go through body scanners to make sure that someone isn’t carrying some kind of explosive to cause harm on other people. This being said I am sure that the guy was just venting, but all things considered, he knew that he had 600 plus followers on Twitter. I am suprised that it took someone doing a random search that would require any type of warning. Maybe the next time he decides to post something of this nature he will throw in a J/K for good measure. As far as the issue of free speech I think that anyone who says anything of this nature that is specifically directed at someone or something, I think it would be perfectly acceptable to take them 100% serious, especially when it could endanger 100’s if not 1000’s of lives.

  3. SKL says:

    I think this was a misapplication of whatever law they have against “menacing” communications. Threatening or intimidating someone should not qualify for “free speech.” But this tweet was not a communication to the airport. I also think it’s pretty obvious the message is a joke – unless there’s something about this guy’s background that would lead one to take it seriously.

    This was dumb, though. I can think of some bloggers / tweeters who like to use this kind of “humor,” often at the expense of people or institutions – to the point where this is sort of their “trademark” tone. (When I say “at the expense,” I mean it’s derogatory toward them, not that it directly harms them in an actionable way.) These folks, especially those with a large audience, don’t seem to care about any negative fallout from their sarcasm. I find it very distasteful, but I have never thought it ought to lead to criminal charges.

    Of course, there are some things you should never say in an airport. I used to jokingly remind people not to say “that’s the bomb!” when speaking admiringly about something. I think most of us have heard the news stories of people being arrested for joking around about having or not having bombs or weapons in an airport. So if you go there and talk like that where officials can hear you, you deserve what you get. But in this case, the dude wasn’t hollering, he was tweeting. Nobody at the airport even detected his message until after he was long gone, so how could this be considered the same as saying “I have a bomb” audibly at an airport? It could not have led to a panic or extra security measures or costs or whatever.

    So in short, no, I don’t think this was a crime, at least not by US standards. However, I will say that I’ve noticed more and more intimidation against “free speech” right here in the USA. Especially if you dare to speak out against our government – and that’s the whole point of constitutional free speech in the first place.

  4. Vicki says:

    Well I don’t know if he shouldve lost his job or what kind of punishment he should’ve gotten but I do know at this day and age you don’t joke about blowing things up. Imagine had noone followed up on this and he really had blown the place up?
    9/11 has really changed a lot of things.

  5. mssc54 says:

    TWO things wrong here.

    FIRST: Mr. Bonehead should be more aware of the way he tries to be cool to his peeps. Hopefully, lesson learned.

    SECOND: The government is reall good at catching those who are harmeless but pretty poor at catching the real bad guys. But now they can say, “Look at how good we are doing our jobs.” Jerks.

  6. Nikki says:

    I’m gonna sit on the fence with this one. On one hand that certainly does seem like a too harsh of a punishment. It doesn’t seem to fit the “crime.” But on the other BIG hand…people seriously need to start using their common sense. In todays age (I’m sure everyone has said this) you cannot make jokes like that. What is everyone did, and no one gave it a second thought? Makes me wonder how many times something bad would happen. Our National Defense has enough to deal with, and these stupid “jokes” are taking up wasted time.

    Losing his job, I don’t know about that. The $1500….that seems to fit the bill. However, how many are they going to let slide by with a fine. So there really does have to be some kind of harsh punishment set in place. I guess I am more for it, that against the more I think about it.

  7. Laura says:

    I really am sitting on the fence in this one, too. Which is why I wrote the post in the first place.

    On one hand, the guy was an idiot for writing what he did. It’s amazing how we’ll put things on the internet for the world (or 600 followers) to see, that we won’t say out loud to the person standing next to us.

    On the other hand, did he have anything else in his demeanor/other tweets/life that would suggest that he was serious? Sometimes people just say stuff because they’re frustrated, which is what this guy claims to have been doing.

    On the OTHER other hand, I agree with MSSC. This is very similar to the whole TSA Groping thing that’s going on right now. “Let’s put regular law-abiding citizens through the criminal process because they *might* be carrying something, and ignore the guy in the corner who is wearing robes, sweating profusely, and looking nervously over his shoulder while he’s playing with a cellphone, because that would be profiling and it’s politically incorrect to question him”.

    I think the fine was ok (the amount fit the crime), if they found that he was, indeed being anything other than stupid. Maybe even for being stupid. Because it *was* commented to 600 of his closest friends in a “public place” (online), rather than spoken to his buddy in the car on the way home.

    I don’t think he should have lost his job. The way I read the stories (and I checked a couple before writing this), he was fired simply because he was busted in the parking lot of his office. If that’s the case, then anyone who gets a parking ticket in the office parking lot should be fired, too.

    It comes to – again, agreeing with MSSC – a bunch of people who are looking for ‘little guy’ scapegoats because they can’t get the big guys, ether because the big bad guys are too slippery, or because the governments have hampered themselves so badly with political correctness and fear.

  8. SKL says:

    I know you have to conduct yourself differently in an airport, but I hope we aren’t getting to the point where people have to hesitate before every joke they crack, thinking about every potential unintended repercussion. Often the “humor” in a joke is because of how spontaneous it is.

  9. Joy says:

    I think we all pretty much agree. I do think, and it’s sad that we have to but…we have to remember that we can’t joke anymore about bombs or blowing things up. It’s been like this for quite a while now and quite frankly, I think this guy was an idiot to say that no matter where he said let alone on Twitter with that many people following him. I mean REALLY!!!

    Part of me feels really bad that we have to live this way. Part of me feels really bad that we have to go through the things we go through in order not to hurt “certain people’s” feelings so we have to suffer. I think all this airline stuff is a bunch of bunk and the horror stories I’m hearing make me really feel bad for the innocent kids and older people who are being put through such extremes just to fly on an airplane when we all know “who” we’re looking for. I’m very sorry to say but it’s NOT Mr and Mrs Joe Smith of Fargo. I’m sorry and I really hesitate to say this but this America is not like the America of old. It used to be you were guilty until proven innocent and now all of us are being put through the ringer for what these stupid terrorists did to us and now we can’t profile them and just check them????? When I think of my grandchildren getting searched like that, or my mom, it makes me want to cry.

    Yes I agree if we all get searched we all should feel safer but really, who are we trying to kid with that story? We never used to have to go through that and we all flew and we were all fine. When people say “oh what’s fair for all” it makes me want to scream, “it’s NOT all of us who are blowing up all this stuff and wanting to kill as many Americans as we can.” That guy the other day in Portland said he wanted to kill as many of us as was possible but yet we don’t want to hurt HIS feelings???!!!???!!! Seriously????

    Back to the question. What do I think? I think the fine fit the punishment but I honestly don’t think I feel the guy deserved to lose his job and his way of supporting himself. He was stupid but if everyone who was stupid lost their jobs, a lot of us would be out of work.

    I’ll go hide in the corner now.

    • SKL says:

      I agree with you on the profiling. That is such an un-PC thing to say, the next thing we know, I’ll be in jail for saying that. So not the USA I grew up in.

      Recently a kid was told he couldn’t put a flag on his bike and ride to school. Why? The American flag might offend someone in a US taxpayer-funded public school! You can, however, burn the US flag publicly, regardless of how many people you offend. You can wear it on your ass, but you can’t fly it on your bike. Grr.

      • Laura says:

        Oh!! I am SO TIRED of people crying “profiling” like it’s a dirty word or something! Honestly, profiling is a good thing. It’s the science of behavior and observation. I wish people would understand that. It’s why I described the “bad guy” in my response the way I did. Not just the garb, but the fact that he’s sweating profusely (stressed), looking around (nervous), and messing with a cell phone (possibly programming an explosive device).

        The more I hear about the Israeli method of checking passengers, the more I believe they have it right. (Besides, I love watching dogs work.)

    • Joy says:

      I recently blew into my mom about this and I really don’t like to say it out loud but I remember her telling me when she was growing up that people were really afraid of a lot of Japanese people after it was proven that there were pictures taken of all our boats in Pearl Harbor. Where they were, how they were lined up and what were the busiest times of our soldiers (because they wanted to kill as many of us as possible) and they had to be taken by someone IN THE US. After the bombing they put a bunch of Japanese people into camps and as sad as it was, everyone was afraid.

      Back then nobody was afraid of hurting their feelings but were most concerned with protecting out country first and things couldn’t be more different now.

      Now mind you, I’m not saying that we should put all Muslims into a camp but I don’t see the reason why the airlines and borders can’t just check the people they feel are a danger and why people have a problem with it. It’s the way it used to be. Just because things progress it doesn’t mean things are better because we are being treated like we flew the plane into the Twin Towers.

      • SKL says:

        Intelligent profiling (which I assure you they do anyway, but they frisk the rest of us to be politically correct) is so much more than just looking at the skin color. I’m not an expert in that, but I know it involves stuff like, where are you coming from, where are you going, what’s your recent flight history like, have you taken flying lessons, do you have a one-way or two-way ticket, etc. I mean, they aren’t going to strip-search everyone with tan skin.

        Now guys like that Fort Hood shooter, that was a case of PC gone wrong. People knew he was iffy but they were afraid to do anything about it without hard proof. Well, now they have hard proof. Can we not make the same mistake again?

        I was mentioning to a foreign guy (not a muslim) the other day, other countries profile (including the one he’s a citizen of), so why shouldn’t the USA? His answer: “because the USA should be a leader.” (Can you tell he’s a liberal?) My retort: “Yes, I agree – we should be a leader in profiling.” Hmph.

    • Joy says:

      They profile serial killers. Is that wrong. Next thing you know, that’ll be wrong too.

  10. SKL says:

    My comment is lost again. Or maybe it’s been confiscated by Big Brother?

    • Laura says:

      Is that it, up there? I hope so, because the spam filter was massively full today, and I deleted a bunch of crap, but approved yours before I did it. When I approved it, WP put it in the “pending” file, but when I went to boot it out of the “pending” file and into “approved”, it was gone. I hope it posted it, and didn’t dump it into the great beyond…

    • Joy says:

      I just went in there too Laura and there were 11 in the spam. What the heck is with that?? There are never that many. We may have gone at the same time.

      • Laura says:

        There were 15 when I was in there! And a good half of them were honest-to-goodness spam crap. I don’t know what was up, but I deleted it all.

  11. Sue says:

    I agree with everyone else. It was stupid of him to make a comment, but loosing his job may have been a little much. Why did it take the government so long to find this tweet anyway?! A little late there guys!

  12. Jason says:

    I think as for as the issue of “profiling” to try and look for looking suspicious would only lead to everyone being searched. I don’t see what the big deal is with going through the scanners, and if people don’t like being felt up then just go with the flow and use the scanners. I mean I would go on the airplane in my underwear if it meant that there wouldn’t be anyone with an explosive on the plane. There is a time when you need to start making an example of these people that are trying to do the U.S. harm. Ex. The kid who tried to blow up a bunch of people at a parade in Oregon I believe, simply because as he stated he wanted to kill as many people as possible. I think instead of letting this leak to the media, the goverment should make these people “disappear” and send the photos of the body to the terrorist organizations with no other message than this is what happens when you try and bring your jihad to us.

    • Joy says:

      I love the idea of sending the bombers photo. That’s great and normally I’d agree with the body scanner but a lot of people, like Paul for example can’t go through one and a lot of people fly daily and really, my brother won’t even use a microwave because of the “waves” it sends so daily, at what point is that good for you?

      We’ve so far heard stories of elderly or ill people who’s colostomy bags are being spilled and there have been many humiliating things happening to young teens and innocent people in these searches and I know how those border/airport guards can be and these are just the beginning. A lot of them think they own the world. There are many MANY nice ones but let me tell you, I once sat at the border for 3 hours once being questioned only because of my car and that guy was just being a pr**k. I think if everyone has to be searched, there’s got to be a better way than the radiation (or whatever that is in those full body scans) and being searched in our body cavities. Would you really want someone sticking their finger up Hunters butt? I don’t care for me but I care for Bailey, Trinity, Christopher and my older parents.

      • Jason says:

        I think that if things got to where they were going to start doing a probe of that nature on any one of my family members for no good reason I would file a lawsuit against the TSA. As for people that have a medical condition that doesn’t allow them to go through such things, I am not sure how to approach the subject allowing them to be ommited, based on doctor’s restriction, from any search would only lead to a loophole that a terrorist would gladly jump through. I think ultimately there is no answer that will make everyone happy, however I do think there are better answers it just cannot be reached as fast Americans would like it to be.

    • Joy says:

      Jason, when your parents just came, did they get searched like this? I’ve been hearing that not everyone is getting this search and some people are still just walking through those metal detector things.

      • Jason says:

        Joy the airport they went through greenville/spartanburg is rather small so they still had the old metal detectors to go through. Also I think that they didn’t have any troubles going back through MSP either. Also I had wrote a reply to you on the earlier comment and it hasn’t showed up.

      • Joy says:

        That’s what I don’t understand. At first I thought everyone was either getting the full body search or the full body scan and now to find out that’s not the case. I wonder about that. I was talking to my brother last night and he thought everyone was getting fully searched but I’d heard otherwise.

        • SKL says:

          I heard that only some airports are doing all that, and most are not. That is the only reason I am not screaming like a banshee about them doing this to children. I can’t remember if I did this rant on your blog before, but I am so upset at that thought of little kids having this happen to them. My dad said he watched a video of them doing it to a 4-year-old and he was crying. I didn’t see it, but it sounded horrible. How do you tell your preschooler or toddler that someone is going to put their hands on / in his privates? Think about it for a minute, seriously. “Hunter, this man needs to make sure nobody has a bomb up his butt, so bend over . . . .” Is there any right way to do this? No. Other countries which are a lot more careful about security do not do this to little children. I’m sorry, but I’m black & white on this one. It’s wrong.

  13. Joy says:

    Oh, it’s snowing. I wondered if that would start on it’s own.

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