What is RICO and why is it important?

I had heard of RICO, in connection with the Mueller Enquiry in the US, but had no idea what it was.

In fact, RICO stands for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (Act) and it is a US federal law. Introduced to tackle the loophole which permitted the punishment of organised crime family members who carried out crimes, but not the bosses who ordered those crimes, RICO carries financial penalties and a jail sentence for those found guilty. It also permits the US Attorney to issue a pre-trial injunction seizing all assets of the accused, something which terrifies defendants, who often plead guilty to lesser crimes to avoid said seizure.

Originating to tackle organised crime, particularly the Mafia, RICO has been successfully applied in other types of cases, of insider trading for example and in civil cases as varying as NOW (National Organisation for Women) v. Scheidler (Pro-Life Action Network) to Art Cohen v.  Donald S. Trump (yes, that one – the case was settled out of court for large sums payable by Trump). Given what is emerging about the goings-on at Facebook, most recently in the latest hearings at the DCMS Parliamentary Committee, there are real questions about RICO being applied to Facebook and its senior executives ( including Mark Zuckerburg ).  One of the crimes covered by RICO is terrorism.

The Committee has seized e-mails which seem to show that Facebook knew, as early as 2014 that Russian IP addresses were creaming off up to 3 million items of data from Facebook, in effect stealing data. Facebook made no attempt, as far as I am aware, to prevent this situation continuing or to bring it to the attention of the authorities.  Indeed, Facebook’s corporate culture seems to be one of intense secrecy and defensiveness. Given Robert Mueller’s finding that Russia illegally influenced US elections and the imprisonment of individuals involved, is Facebook facilitating this interference and cyber-terrorism?  Maybe it’s not just the data protection regulations which Facebook would be in breach of, but RICO?

There is other US legislation which could apply to Facebook, most particularly the anti-trust laws, which,up until now, there seems to have been no appetite for using. Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp among other internet based applications as well as providing a platform for Apps and as such could be said to be anti-competitive.  It’s claims that it is not a media company, merely the provider of a technology platform just don’t stand up and allow it to also avoid all the usual regulation of media companies, requiring them to act responsibly, specifically in regard to advertising.

So, given what we are learning, not just about how Facebook allows itself to be used but how it then seeks to cover up practices which could be claimed to be unethical or irresponsible – hiring lawyers to prevent disclosure and ‘mud-slinging’ firms to rubbish anyone who questions it – is it now time to break up Facebook?

For more on Facebook and its involvement in the UK Referendum why not try                  The Dark Arts of Advertising                     Facebook Ads – a positive experience                           Big Data                        Facebook Ads – no politics 

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