Eugene Volokh has an interesting new paper about Crime-Facilitating Speech (abridged version): “speech [that] provides information that makes it easier to commit crimes, torts, or other harms”. He argues convincingly that many free-speech cases pertain to crime-facilitating speech. Somebody wants to prevent speech because it may facilitate crime, but others argue that the speech has beneficial effects too. When should such speech be allowed?
The paper is a long and detailed discussion of this issues, with many examples. In the end, he asserts that crime-facilitating speech should be allowed except where (a) “the speech is said to a few people who the speaker knows are likely to use it to commit a crime or to escape punishment”, (b) the speech “has virtually no noncriminal uses”, (c) “the speech facilitates extraordinarily serious harms, such as nuclear or biological attacks”. But don’t just read the end – if you have time it’s well worth the effort to understand how he got there.
What struck me is how many of the examples relate to computer security or copyright enforcement. Many security researchers feel that the applied side of the field has become a legal minefield. Papers like this illustrate how that happened. The paper’s recommendations, if followed, would go a long way toward making legitimate research and publication safer.