Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Law vs. Looking Stuff Up

From Slaw's "English Court Jails Juror Who Used Internet Search":
"English news sources reported yesterday that a three-judge panel of the High Court found Theodora Dallas, until recently a university lecturer in psychology, guilty of contempt of court and sentenced her to six months imprisonment. ... Dallas was on a jury trying a case of grievous bodily harm. The trial judge had given jurors clear instructions not to look up matters connected to the trial. At home, she searched the term "grievous bodily harm" and then put it in conjunction with "Luton," producing a result that showed the defendant had once been charged with (and acquitted of) rape. Dallas told other jurors during their deliberation what she had found in this way, with the consequence that, when this breach was reported to the trial judge, the trial was stopped."
I'm torn about this. On the one very obvious hand is the attempt by the courts to guide the process down hopefully more objective and legal pathways. We all know that what we read, especially in the media, affects how we perceive and judge future information. The requirement seemed pretty clear what they were expected to do, or rather NOT do.

But then again, isn't this a little like asking someone NOT to think about a purple elephant? The request cannot help but encourage the behaviour. Internet access is everywhere: at work, at home, in our coffee shops, on our phones, etc. I personally use it every single day. Without Internet access, I don't have a job. And that's true for more of us as time goes by. Although I can understand the legal motivation to continue trying to restrict people in this way, I'm not sure it's sustainable. It will eventually be impossible to securely control the information access any one person has except by pretty extreme means.

Perhaps the best way to combat "bad information" tainting a process is to provide good information instead of NO information.  We would have less motivation to seek out that which we don't think we need.

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