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Five Legal Concerns With Instant Messaging

1. Instant messaging legal issue: Defamation

If you post defamatory information on the internet, you may risk civil and/or criminal responsibility. Defamation is a tort. It is a worldwide phrase that may be split into two categories: libel and slander. Australia has removed the libel/slander distinction. A defamatory comment is one that causes a person to be ostracised or avoided by members of society.

Libel is a term that relates to defamation through writing, pictures, broadcast, or published works. It is often permanent, however, in England, defamatory remarks spoken in theatre are considered libel. Slander is a term that relates to defamation that occurs through voice, noises, sign language, or gestures; typically, more impermanent or transitory interactions. It is not always straightforward to determine whether a speech constitutes libel or slander.

However, there is a legal distinction between libel and slander. Libel is actionable without proving damages, but slander requires the slanderer to establish particular damages. There are four exceptions to the slander rule where a person can sue without establishing damages. The first is when public remarks accuse someone of committing a crime punishable by jail.

The second circumstance is when a person is said to have a highly contagious sickness. The other two categories include that a person is unable to do their trade or business, or is sexually unchaste. In the aforementioned slander instances, the victim just needs to show publication. In Commonwealth nations, a defamatory comment is published when it is first heard by a third party. This implies that if you post something on the internet that is defamatory, the individual who was defamed can sue you in their country’s courts. In reality, it relies on numerous things.

It’s easy to forget that defamation is a crime when using instant chat. If the victim shows that your online communication was broadcast to a third party, you may be charged with defamation or one of the following categories. If the victim was alone when the statement was received, there would be no legal concerns, but if a third party was present when the message was delivered, you might be held liable for defamation.

Asynchronous instant messages (AIM) are comparable to email and other electronic communications like postings to forums and Usenet groups, except that they are transmitted via a host computer and kept permanently on a hard drive. If they are defamatory, they are libellous. However, a message sent by instant messaging, internet relay chat, or video messaging would likely be considered slander because the user is engaging in an instantaneous real-time synchronous conversation, similar to a phone call.
Just like email, internet messaging now allows for the transmission of video and/or audio. These immediate and interactive conversations have the same legal status as telephone communications, but when attached to a tangible medium and presented to a larger audience, they may be libellous. Users who make defamatory statements over IM may assume they are not subject to the same laws as email or other internet usages. However, the person who posts a message over IM may be liable for defamation. Messages sent using internet messaging (IM) are saved in a local message history and may be accessed.

2. Invasion of Privacy – public disclosure of private facts

Even if an IM isn’t derogatory, it may be seen as an invasion of privacy or a breach of confidence in some jurisdictions. The legal concerns will vary on the jurisdiction’s legislation, but if the person you are communicating with has a legitimate expectation of privacy and believes they are only communicating with one person, you may have legal issues. Invasion of privacy has no defence of truth. If a victim establishes that you have disclosed private information through your online communications, you may face legal difficulties (IM). Instant Messaging (IM) conversation transcripts are considered electronically stored information (ESI) and are treated similarly to emails and other electronic documents for purposes of discovery. Most jurisdictions consider IMs like e-mails for purposes of discovery.
In some cases, a user may be sued if a third party present at the time of the instant messaging (IM) sends a subpoena for the data. Many users of text or instant messaging misunderstand that communications sent over instant messaging or mobile phones are erased after being sent. However, most service providers keep text and instant messaging records for one to three months.

3. Cyberharassment and Stalking

An online Instant Messaging IM user can become a victim of cyber harassment, stalking, or misuse of telecommunication networks which can constitute a criminal offence. Employers and individuals need to protect themselves from legal issues from instant messaging which is used inappropriately. The same is true of other electronic communications although instant messaging (IM) is possibly more susceptible to misuse involving cyber harassment, discrimination, online hate speech, bullying and stalking due to its immediate, informal and intrusive nature.

A user needs to know how to protect themselves by reporting a user misusing instant messaging IM technology and knowing how to block them from sending further offensive messages. Just like email, those using instant messaging can still try to reach the user by changing screen names. This medium of internet communication allows direct real-time communications between employees and corporations without giving much thought to the legal issues which could arise when drafting acceptable use policies for email. These systems are regarded as even more casual in nature than emails which make them a tool more susceptible to misuse for the purpose of sexual harassment, cyber-bullying and other offensive communications.

The legal issues surrounding the use of IM were widely publicised when former congressman Mark Foley was found to have sent explicitly sexual instant messages (IM) to house pages and persons under 18 from his congressional office personal computer. The scandal led to concerns about legal issues and warnings about the legal consequences of inappropriate internet messages.

Businesses have a legal responsibility under occupational health and safety workplace laws to provide a safe work environment free of harassment, discrimination and other illegal conduct. An organisation needs instant messaging (IM) management tools to deal with the legal issues posed by the use of internet messaging IM in the corporate environment. A survey conducted in 2007 revealed that 30% of participants had been recipients of inappropriate instant messaging communications.

4. Security Risks & Compliance Risks

Security experts say hackers prefer IM to conduct phishing attacks and spread virus-infected files. Viruses, trojans, and malware may swiftly spread via an infected user’s friend list. Instant messaging (IM) may waste company assets, time, and resources when workers use it for personal purposes while at work, or when employees are unaware of its security flaws. Because text-based IM is more prone to eavesdropping, and user passwords are saved in text, anybody with physical access to the user’s computer can view them. Many instant messaging software apps do not allow password encryption.

Additionally, instant message software demands that the user open UDP ports to the world, which enhances security threats. The use of Instant messaging (IM) solutions in the workplace give rise to legal issues in terms of compliance with data security, storage and retention laws. Business communications in most jurisdictions must be archived and able to be retrieved under regulations. Many organisations may not appreciate the legal issues and the requirement to preserve instant messages.

5. Leakage of embarrassing information, company intelligence or intellectual property 

Security specialists have identified instant messaging (IM) as the primary technique for hackers to perform phishing attacks and spread computer virus files. Viruses, trojans, and malware may swiftly spread across an infected user’s friend list on an instant messaging service. Instant messaging (IM) may result in the waste of company assets, time, and resources when workers participate in social contacts during work hours or when employees are unaware of the specific security vulnerabilities offered by internet messaging services. Due to the fact that most IM is conducted via text, it is more susceptible to eavesdropping, and because user passwords are saved in text, they are available to anybody with physical access to the user’s computer. Encrypting the password on many instant messaging software apps is not possible.

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