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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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    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
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    There is no such thing as a law that applies everywhere. Different countries have different laws. – ohwilleke Jul 12 at 22:36
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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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They are legal on the face of it but very hard to regulate as they have to be shown to exist to begin with and have a discernable effect.

Although there have been attempts like the Unlawful Societies Act 1799 or the declarations requirements for Masons (phased out in England but still applicable in Scotland particularly for the Scottish Parliament and officials) and more recently the Secret Societies (Declaration) bill proposal, which didn't go anywhere.

Secret Societies of a political nature however, like National Action and the Nordic League (both white supremacists) are more likely to be regulated and in the case of National Action, proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Secret Societies like "5 Hertford Street" (Brexity types and Celebs), "Scintilla Juris" (London & NY lawyers doing odd favours for each other), "The Horseman's Word" (posh horse enthusiasts) and the Masons are all tolerated quite well, even though they do promulgate corruption.

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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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    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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In North Carolina NC Gen. Stat 14-12.3 prohibits certain secret societies, namely those whose purpose is to violate or circumvent laws of the state.

It shall be unlawful for any person to join, unite himself with, become a member of, apply for membership in, form, organize, solicit members for, combine and agree with any person or persons to form or organize, or to encourage, aid or assist in any way any secret political society or any secret military society or any secret society having for a purpose the violating or circumventing the laws of the State.

It is sufficient that illegal activity be their "purpose", regardless of whether they actually break any law.

It is rather common for all "secret societies: to be proohibited in public primary and secondary schools, without consideration of whether they advocate breaking the law. In Oregon, ORS 339.885, says

(1) No secret society of any kind, including a fraternity or sorority, shall be permitted in any public school.

(2) The district school board may order the suspension or expulsion of any pupil who belongs to a secret society.

(3) This section does not apply to any public university listed in ORS 352.002

There is a similar law in Florida, and in Texas, the later having the quirk of redefining "secret society" to be

an organization composed wholly or in part of students of public primary or secondary schools that seeks to perpetuate itself by taking in additional members from the students enrolled in school on the basis of the decision of its membership rather than on the free choice of a student in the school who is qualified by the rules of the school to fill the special aims of the organization

So even a well-publicized "secret society" that votes new members in is deemed a "secret society".

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  • ... so non-secret societies for the purpose of violating the laws of the state are okay? – user253751 Jul 12 at 19:42
  • Apparently. Violating laws is illegal, and taking actions that constitute conspiracy to violate the law is illegal, so there is not a lot of room left for non-secret societies with the ostensive purpose of violating laws. – user6726 Jul 12 at 19:47

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