The most unjust court decision of 2005 - the tale of Mr Cuthbert

United Kingdom

After the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, a number of charity websites collected money online. Mr Cuthbert, a computer consultant, clicked on a banner advertisement which appeared to link to the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal website. He then proceeded to input his credit card details and donate £30. However, when he did not receive an email confirmation for his payment, Mr Cuthbert became suspicious and feared he had fallen for a phishing site.

To check and see whether or not he had been the subject of a fraud, Mr Cuthbert tested the website he had been directed to when clicking on the banner advertisement. Unfortunately, in testing the site, he set off the DEC website security systems, and the police were called in.

Mr Cuthbert was charged with committing an offence under section 1 of the Computer Misuse Act, namely the offence of obtaining "unauthorised access to computer material”. Mr Cuthbert was found guilty and was given a £400 fine and ordered to pay £600 towards the prosecution’s costs. According to press reports, the Judge made the decision with “considerable regret” but stated that “unauthorised access, however praiseworthy the motives, is an offence”.

As a result of what appears to be a very harsh and unjust conviction, press reports suggest that Mr Cuthbert has lost his job and has been unable to secure alternative employment.

This article first appeared in our Technology Annual Review, March 2006. To view this publication, please click here to open in a new window.