London, Sep 1: A British man suspected in the murder of a schoolgirl has been sent to jail for refusing to share his Facebook password with police investigating her death, the media reported.
Stephen Nicholson was jailed for refusing to share his Facebook password with police, which they claimed obstructed their investigation into the stabbing of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh on July 26 this year, the Independent reported, late on Friday.
The police hoped to read through his private messages to see if he had sent any messages to the girl before her murder. Nicholson, who pleaded guilty to the charge under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), argued that giving police access to his private Facebook messages could expose information relating to cannabis.
However, the judge described this excuse as "wholly inadequate", considering the severity of the case and ordered a 14-month jail term. Under the RIPA, police investigating a crime has the power to compel people to disclose a password used to access a phone, computer or any service accessed through an electronic device.
Refusing to comply with RIPA, intended as an anti-terror measure, can result in a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment, or five years in cases involving national security or child indecency.
"The police are able to request disclosure if the reason is to prevent or detect crime if it's in the interests of national security or the economic well-being of the UK," Saunders Law, a London-based law firm, stated on its website.
However, the criminals may be wiser to not disclose a password and plead guilty to the RIPA offence, rather than face significantly more severe charges brought on by whatever the password-protected data reveals, the firm pointed out.
Thus, "there could be a completely disproportionate result if someone is imprisoned for not providing a password but not the crime they are originally under investigation for, of which they might be innocent", the firm stated. A decision on whether to charge Nicholson with further offences is expected on October 27, the report stated.