Police chief wants citizens to bring 'net oligarchs to heel

Sue the giants, says chief constable Sawyer

One of England's top police officers, Shaun Sawyer, wants citizens to go after internet giants that have wronged them.

Sawyer, who is chief constable in Devon and Cornwall and is national lead for human trafficking and modern slavery, made the suggestion in an interview with The Sunday Times, published over the weekend.

In a paywalled article, he told the Murdoch organ that if someone is a victim of an “Internet-enabled crime”, they should sue the platform involved.

Describing the internet as a “safe space for organised crime”, he said Silicon Valley company abuses were “becoming a human injustice”.

The comments coincidentally (?) came after American authorities last week shuttered Backpage.com, a site accused of supporting human trafficking by allowing publication of advertisements for "escorts".

Sawyer believes platforms like Facebook need more policing, and he also criticised “liberal” laws.

So it's down to users, apparently: if people with the resources of the person in the street start suing the platforms, he argued, they would start using their resources to spot abuse.

“Their algorithms should be able to spot regular visitors, every contact leaves a trace, they have all the IP addresses. They know how to do that, and to proactively share information with law enforcement. It is no different to when I was a sergeant working with shop security guards who gave me CCTV images,” Sawyer told The Sunday Times.

+Comment: If it weren't for the huge asymmetry in resources, there might feasibly be merit in this idea, since the standard of civil proof is lower than the standard of criminal proof.

Litigants would still have to face down very deep-pocketed companies.

The Register notes that the chief constable was speaking after two people were found guilty of luring a man to England and holding him as a captive.

That individual is rightly unnamed, since even if he warrants safety under English law, he's still a highly vulnerable individual. It's unlikely that such people will expose themselves to the rigours of a hostile cross-examination by an internet titan's lawyers. ®

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