Technology makes harassing victims easier: Legal paper

SINGAPORE - Modern technology has made harassing innocent victims easier, a legal paper has warned.

It says the proliferation of e-mail and messaging applications makes it simple to set up multiple anonymous accounts.

Yet taking action against the perpetrators might not be so straightforward.

Last month, the High Court dismissed a lawsuit against a customer who allegedly sent abusive messages to an insurance firm.

The paper says this judgment could make it harder to take people to court for harassment - a potential problem in an age of smartphones, Skype and instant messaging.

"One can only predict the proliferation of more apps developed on the universal HTML5 platform," it warns.

Unlike SMSes, they are free to use and "may allow for potential wrongdoers to set up multiple anonymous accounts".

The commentary - titled The End Of The Tort Of Harassment In Singapore? - by former Supreme Court justices' law clerks Joshua Lim and Seow Tzi Yang was published on Tuesday in the Singapore Law Watch.

They point out that in today's world, "instant messaging apps are a dime a dozen, with WhatsApp, Skype, Yahoo, BlackBerry Messenger... Kakao Talk and Line flooding the market".

But opinion is divided over whether people who are targeted using these platforms should be able to sue for harassment.

Last month's case involved policyholder N. Chandran, who repeatedly called and e-mailed staff at AXA Insurance Singapore after his claim was apparently delayed.

The firm tried to get a court order to stop him but failed.

Justice Choo Han Teck ruled that harassment should not be considered a tort - or civil offence.

He warned that if it was, it could result in a flood of lawsuits.

But the authors of the paper argue this decision is at odds with another High Court ruling 12 years ago which accepted it is possible to sue for harassment.

That case involved a former employee who kept pressing his old boss to give him his job back - and ended up trespassing in the victim's home.

The authors suggested that the Court of Appeal re-examine the tort of harassment.

"As things stand, the tort's existence is at stake," they said. "With the two conflicting decisions from the High Court, victims of harassment will look to the Court of Appeal for the final word."

vijayan@sph.com.sg


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