6

Andy and Mary are friends. Andy discovers that Mary is secretly working as an escort. Nobody knows about this activity beyond Andy. He tries to convince her that escorting is harmful and will have a serious impact on her mental well-being in the future. Mary disagrees and asserts that her activities are solely relevant to her private life.

To stop her, Andy decides to send an anonymous email to her family in which he provides a link to the PUBLIC page she is using to promote her escort services.

Does Andy commit any crime in revealing a PUBLIC website to her family? Could this in particular be considered a cyberstalking crime?

I stress that all the information shared by Andy is PUBLIC and visible on the web.

6
  • 3
    As always, consider that different places have different laws. For example, privacy laws are very different in the U.S. and in most European countries.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 23, 2023 at 19:50
  • 3
    Fair point: let us say from the point of view of UK law though I am interested about U.S. as well. Again the main point here is that there is of course right to privacy but the information being shared is public and visible. Commented May 23, 2023 at 19:56
  • BTW. The analysis would be the same if Mary finds out that Andy is secretly working as an escort.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 8:22
  • Not a lawyer at all, but isn't there also a danger of this scenario slipping into blackmail rather than harassment? "Stop doing this thing I don't like, or else ..." sounds like blackmail to me, even if the goal is not for Andy to personally enrich himself.
    – xLeitix
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 8:55
  • 3
    (also, and I feel this goes without saying, Andy and Mary are not "friends" if Andy even contemplates this)
    – xLeitix
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 8:56

2 Answers 2

4

In the , those actions would be fully protected by the First Amendment. Andy has a constitutional right to speak freely about essentially whatever he wants -- including Mary's criminal conduct -- unless his speech falls into one of several narrowly defined categories, none of which would apply in this case. And because Mary has already put this information out on the Internet, it is likely not sufficiently private to support an invasion-of-privacy claim.

However, the unfortunate reality is that complainants, police, prosecutors, and judges frequently ignore First Amendment protections. Indeed, many states have laws against "cyberstalking" and "telecommunications harassment" that are incredibly broad, and that clearly apply to conduct protected by the First Amendment. For instance, Ohio's telecommunications harassment statute makes it a crime to send an e-mail "with purpose to abuse, threaten, or harass another person."

This means that many people who engage in First Amendment-protected speech end up getting prosecuted anyway. If they pay for a good lawyer who knows how to properly raise a First Amendment defense, they may escape any penalties. But because most defendants do not have those resources, and because many lawyers are unaware of the First Amendment implications of such prosecutions, most defendants in such situations likely end up being convicted despite behaving perfectly legally.

In the , though, the situation is very different. Even if Mary is breaking the law, and even if Andy limits himself to strictly factual information about what's he's learned about her conduct, he may still be held civilly liable. Mary may also be able to pursue Andy criminally for harassment if his e-mail causes her substantial emotional distress, and civilly for "harassment by publication." The fact that this information is already public is likely not going to go very far in changing the analysis.

Andy's best course of action is therefore to play it safe by keeping his mouth shut. Doing so has both legal and nonlegal benefits: He avoids exposure to the hassles of defending himself from criminal charges and he gets some time to examine the resentment, jealousy, paranoia that makes him want to humiliate his "friend."

1
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – feetwet
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 18:09
2

I cannot see what law could be violated by pointing a third party to publicly available, truthful information about somebody else.

In particular, German criminal law excludes provably truthful statements from the slander definition (§186 StGB). If you prostitute yourself you have to live with how it reflects back on yourself. I would think that even if Mary's escort side gig was not public but Andy discovered it e.g. by simple observation or because he was a customer, emailing that information to a third party would still not be forbidden.

Back to the "link to webpage" case: A possible exception may be if the linked contents is criminal — hyperlinks to criminal contents e.g. of terrorist organizations can constitute criminal acts themselves (see https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zul%C3%A4ssigkeit_von_und_Haftung_f%C3%BCr_Hyperlinks). I doubt though that this extends to email, which is private communication — and in the concrete example the page linked to is likely not criminal in itself in the first place.

1
  • In Germany, if Andy does this to pressure Mary to stop working as an escort, it could be considered Nötigung (coercion) - StGB §240. However, if he just does it because he thinks the family has a right to know, this would probably not apply.
    – sleske
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 15:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .