21

There are quite a few questions related to overstaying visa, working illegally without proper visa, etc.

How should questions and answers suggesting criminal activity be treated here?

19

Such questions should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Some should be answered, others not. The rule of thumb is that we want to be "on the side of angels" in such situations.

Suppose someone asked, "I did such-and-such that I now believe to be illegal, what can I do to make it right?" That is the kind of answer we want to give, to be helpful, assuming that a satisfactory solution does, in fact, exist.

Another acceptable question might be, "I did such-and-such, that seems to be illegal, because I did it a certain way, but my understanding is that it would have been perfectly legal if I had done it the right way. What SHOULD I have done to make it legal?" Here, an answer might help the OP, but even if it doesn't, it would be useful if it helps the next person act legally.

The kinds of questions we should not answer are something like "I'm doing such-and-such, I think it's illegal, how can I cover my tracks so I don't get caught?"

14

Stackexchange's content policy does state that the site can't be used for illegal purpose, and a while back we made a decision (can't find it right now) that questions about how to do illegal activities would be closed.

The grey area comes in a couple of places:

  • some activities are considered 'semi-legal' (you won't get arrested for smoking pot in Vancouver, but it's not 'legal' as such) - I'd assume we still close these
  • some activities are legal in some countries (eg smoking pot in Amsterdam) but not in others. We have to be careful not to close questions where they're actually asking a valid, legal question.

Of course, we're also not lawyers, so mistakes may happen, but we can only do our best. If you're not sure, flag it for a moderator and they can certainly look at it.

  • Recently Law SE (law.stackexchange.com) was launched. Can't we migrate such questions to this site? – gmauch Jun 29 '15 at 14:24
  • 1
    @gmauch, sometimes. Questions such as "Is X legal?" or "What is the penalty for X?" are generally on-topic. Questions such as "Am I likely to be arrested for X?" are not. – Mark Jul 3 '15 at 1:32
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    Smoking pot isn't legal in Amsterdam. – bye Jul 10 '15 at 10:27
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    @Alex Then make it “smoking pot in Colorado”, which most assuredly is. – tchrist Sep 25 '15 at 7:33
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    @tchrist Technically speaking, that isn't either. Possession is still a federal crime anywhere in the USA, but the federal government is currently not enforcing those laws in states which don't have state laws against it. – reirab Oct 2 '15 at 16:26
3

Downvote me to oblivion, but personally, I'd leave them open. Discussing illegal behavior is not illegal per se. For this reason, I believe that the SE content policy does not prohibit them.

  • 4
    True, «discussing» isn't illegal. However facilitating or inciting might be. And it's open to interpretation whether an answer is one or the other. – vartec Dec 27 '15 at 21:17
  • (-1) I'm not particularly concerned that discussing illegal behaviour would cause serious legal problems for the site (and I also think that SE staff – rather than random contributors – should make that determination), I just think this should not be on-topic (we obviously won't discuss anything and everything that's not illegal to discuss). But it's good you posted this as answer, it's certainly a valid position. – Relaxed Dec 28 '15 at 14:51
  • My problem with this is: what are we here to do, as in _here in Travel; we're here to help travelers deal with issues. If a traveler wants to commit an act which could, and most probably should, result in them facing severe penalties if caught, we now have two sides of a problem to figure out. Do we facilitate the user to not get caught? Or do we tell them what they are doing is illegal and not help them at all, expressly because it is so? My viewpoint is seriously in flux about this, to be honest. – CGCampbell Mar 9 '16 at 15:11
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    @CGCampbell Actually, the question is a different one: do we forbid other people to facilitate them, or do we not? Because that is what closing a question means: preventing everyone else from answering. If the question remains open, you can always answer "don't do it, it's illegal", explaining the consequences in detail. – Federico Poloni Mar 9 '16 at 16:09
  • While I'm inclined to agree with you in most cases, I would not want to see a question survive along the lines of "I live in X; can I get away with murdering my neighbor while we are traveling together in Y?" – phoog Nov 29 '17 at 15:35

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