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“Slippery Slope” defined… #crimetalk

Way back in law school we learned a term called the “slippery slope.” In academia, it usually has a negative connotation because it usually means…”the beginning of the end.”

Imagine you are standing on some rocks next to a roaring river. The rock you are on is dry, but as you step forward, you step onto a wet rock. It’s slippery and it slopes towards the river… whoosh, you slip on the rock and slide down into the river. There was nothing you could do, the events were set in motion by powers beyond your control (gravity dude).

In law, the term is used when a decision is made that, in all likelihood, will lead to other decisions similar to the original one. If the first decision was bad, then the following ones will be equally as bad if they follow the first. And since our legal system is based on “stare decisis”, prior decisions must be given due respect and usually must be followed.

The term is used so often that, to me, it has become akin to the boy who cried wolf. Not every decision made that is termed the “slippery slope” results in bad things happening, but I fear that a recent decision in the United Kingdom may be the definition of the “slippery slope.”

There is a website called “The Pirate Bay” that arguably facilitates illegal activity. It essentially allows its visitors or “users” to share files. Usually those files are not supposed to be shared (copied music or movies for example).

The courts in the UK have just ordered the various ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to block access to The Pirate Bay. That’s right, if you live in England, get Internet access from one of the major players over there, you won’t be able to visit The Pirate Bay.

So, if the courts are willing to order the blocking of certain Internet sites are the days of a free and open Internet over?

According to a recording industry chief executive, “The High Court has confirmed that The Pirate Bay infringes copyright on a massive scale…”

Thank you sir. The site is hosted in Sweden and the Swedish authorities already found the site operators guilty of “helping people circumvent copyright controls.” (BBC Article) Resolution is pending…IN SWEDEN…!

There are sites out there that will allow you to mask your IP address (basically your “license plate” when you surf the net) so that your Internet usage cannot be tracked. These sites claim that there are plenty of legal reasons to do so, so they are allowed to exist.

As a former prosecutor, I am familiar with the myriad ways that criminals can hide their tracks or at least make it incredibly difficult to find them on the Internet. I would ask myself all the time “how can this service be legal, it seems to have no legitimate purpose…”

There are sites out there that will teach you how to kill someone. There are sites out there for just about every horrible aspect of humanity. There are also sites out there that may be teaching someone how to save the world, solve global warming and many other really good things. Our Government here is allowed to “seize” websites once a court order is obtained. Our Government can break down your door if they get a search warrant. There is a difference between this behavior an blocking access without addressing the source.

The British judiciary just gave private companies an end around. Forget taking down the source, just order access to the offending site blocked and force compliance on that issue…much easier, right?

There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that The Pirate Bay website operators knowingly engage in behavior that facilitates crime.  In order to bring them to justice I would have had to prove it – beyond a reasonable doubt. It appears the Swedish authorities did just that.

But here…. the British courts just ordered the access to the site shutdown. Do they really think that’s going to make a difference? If the whole Napster thing taught us anything, it’s that copy/paste isn’t going away anytime soon, it just changes address.

To sum it up:

Access to The Pirate Bay is blocked because of copyright infringement.

Access to “how to join jihad” is blocked because of national security concerns.

Access to “candidate x’s website” is blocked because candidate x’s positions are far too radical for the general populous to be reading.

Access to “The Internet” is blocked because, well, we’re just not ready yet.

And there you have the “slippery slope” folks.

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