Is it ever right to impose a blanket ban on the use of the Internet, even during legal proceedings or as a legal punishment ?
We have commented before on the stupidity and counterproductiveness of Internet Bans or Restrictions on Mobile Phones with respect to the alleged "terrorist suspects" currently being restricted, without trial, under Control Orders issued by the Home Secretary (who did not even bother to read each one that he "signed") under the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005
Gary McKinnon, who is accused of "hacking" into over 90 US military systems, is facing extradition to the US, and is currently frree on £5000 bail to appear before an extradition hearing on July 27th.
The bail condition imposed, of not being allowed to apply for a Passport or travel document (as if the UK Passport Service would be likely to have processed a normal application in so short a time) is not unusual, in that it is meant to help ensure that Gary appears at the hearing.
The fact that he has been free for over two and a half years since his initial arrest and release without charge in November 2002, and has not tried to evade justice makes this an unlikely risk.
However, more controversially, Gary McKinnon seems to have been banned from using "any computer connnected to the internet". Again, this seems to be rather pointless - if he had been going to do anything malicious via the internet, he has had two and a half years in order to do it. Since he is not being charged with any other Computer Misuse Act offences, presumably, there is little risk.
"District Judge Christopher Pratt set several conditions for the $9,200 bail, including that McKinnon be barred from applying for any travel documents and from using any computer equipment that gives access to the Internet."
If this wording is accurate, then this has far reaching implications.
Does that ban also extend to mobile and fixed line telephones, since these days, they all fall under "any computer equipment that gives access to the Internet" ?
There may be some merit in a partial internet ban, forbidding him to contact US Military systems, but that is not easy to do, sometimes , like "Joshua" in the film "Wargames", they sometimes try to contact you, or at least, lots of bored US Military employees surfing the world wide web do so.
However, given that Gary McKinnon is not facing any criminal charges her in the UK, he must be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and any kind of restriction on his legal use of the internet before he has been convicted of anything, is simply a punishment without trial and a pre-judgement of the case, when no actual prima facie evidence against him has been presented or cross examined.
It could be argued that such a blanket ban, especially for an IT worker, is a disproportionate arbitrary punishment, and a restriction of Gary's freedom of expression and freedom to work.
If he is forbidden from contacting his legal advisors via the internet , or by telephone, then his his right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, has been breached. It is not an "equality of arms" for the defence to be restricted in the use of the internet, during the preparation for the case, when the prosecution is not similarly restricted.
Does anyone have any qualified legal opinions on this ?