What is the legal status of secret societies?

Some assumptions on these societies to restrict the question:

1) They are not involved in unlawful activities in the countries in which members operate.

2) They may be concerned about politics or religion.

3) They operate online. (This point raises the further question: under which jurisdiction they would be regulated?)

4) By secret I mean: they want their members, activities and operations to be concealed to non-members. They want the organisation itself to be unknown.

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    What do you mean by “secret society”? Do you mean “secretive” like Freemasons or the CIA or something else? – Dale M Nov 15 '19 at 23:36
  • I don't know enough about how those societies work to judge, but the definition given by Wikipedia it's close to what I mean: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_society – Rexcirus Nov 15 '19 at 23:42
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  • It might help us figure out how to answer if you were more specific: For example, why you are interested in secret societies? Just plain curiosity (nothing wrong with that -- who wouldn't want to know more about what they do at the Odd-Fellows Hall?) Worry? Maybe you read somewhere that they run the world? Are there any particular ones that you are curious about? Masons? International Order of Odd-Fellows? Masons? Knight Templar? Opus Dei? Which legal status are you interested in? Tax exemption? Incorporation? Liability? – Just a guy Nov 16 '19 at 3:17
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    Jurisdiction is not exclusive. If a secret society has members in two countries and a server in a third country then you have to look at three countries' laws. – phoog Nov 16 '19 at 14:11

Depends on the purpose of the society and physical location of its members.

A secret society aiming to coordinate bank robberies would be pretty much illegal anywhere. A secret society sharing photos of cats would be fine in most parts of the world.

I'm not sure about the jurisdiction. All the places in which members live? Where the servers are located? The place of residence of the founder?

All of that matters. Members, founder, servers are all subject to the laws of the land where they are. (That said, the fact that the members only interact online changes nothing.)

For example, say there is a secret online society with some sort of political agenda and members all over the world. Whilst for members living in most of the English-centric world (UK/US/Canada/AU/NZ/Singapore etc.) such a membership would be perfectly legal, members living in Italy and Poland will be breaking the law.

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That's just called friends tbh. There's no laws about talking to people online, if you aren't doing anything illegal.

Secret societies aren't a legal entity. It's just a group of people.

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  • 2
    Some secret societies are in fact legal entities, however. Perhaps the term needs to be defined more precisely for this question. – phoog Nov 15 '19 at 23:00

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