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Sunday, 22 May 2011

The world is laughing at us

Somewhere in Zimbabwe, a dictator's henchman is reading an article on the Daily Mail website and laughing at us.  An unnamed journalist could be going to prison for something he put on his Twitter.

Yesterday evening I watched a news broadcast on Channel 4  - I can't tell you which of the major UK news outlets I watched, since the TV station made reference to 2 overseas news websites wired and Sport.es, both of whom have run the now infamous story about footballer NotThat Stupid.

Channel 4 told me which overseas sites to go to, and since Channel 4's bulletin is still available online, I've got to be a bit careful here.

All this is claimed to be in the interests of privacy, and being an advocate of rights to privacy you'd think I would be all for this action.

But I'm not.  Privacy is the ability to find comfortable spaces to act unobserved.  Privacy law prevents intrusion into these spaces.

This is a power game over the control of information once it's become available, and injunctions aren't the solution.

Injunctions aren't scalable or robust.

For most people, if their privacy is breached by an ex-lover, perhaps embarrassing them on Facebook, they don't have the luxury of court action.  If action was affordable, how much court time would be clogged up?

If orders preventing disclosure of information numbered in the thousands, how would newspaper editors from local to national - plus bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers - all keep track of what they can and cannot say about individuals?

Will there be a central repository of  information we can't publish, just so we can check??! Who would have access to this? There must be thousands of UK publications...

Clarkson and Mosley have both argued that only the rich and the famous need injunctions.  I counter that with privacy is not just for the rich and famous, and the only way we can start to tackle the problem is to look at changing our social attitudes to intrusion.

The blunt force of the law is not always the best way to change behaviour; especially injunctions, as few have so far resulted in full trial where the person responsible for infringing another's privacy has faced sanctions from the court.

I know at least one of the current cases under question has an alleged element of blackmail, but speaking in general terms if an ex-lover breaks your bond of trust, that's an issue for you to deal with, not grounds to call for a nationwide censorship system to reign Twitter under control of the state.

James Firth

UPDATE: The case referred to above in the Mail is probably not the Imogen Thomas case, where the claimant is referred to as CTB.  In this case the code name is TSE


  1. agree. but I don't know what the answer is going to be.

  2. In the legal system, why can't we provide for financial compensation for breach of your right to a private life (provided for in 1998 c 42 Schedule 1 Article 8), with the scale of compensation determined by a judge according to the damage caused to you (including embarrassment)?

    The people currently getting superinjunctions, hyperinjunctions et al can afford the legal costs of suing under such a cause of action; if it became clear to the press that publishing salacious details of someone's private life without due cause had a large (possibly even bankruptcy level) price tag attached, they would reconsider, and hopefully only publish when there's a genuine public interest defence due to (say) the hypocrisy of the plaintiff.

    Make it expensive to get away with publishing a sportsperson's affairs when they're not relevant to the sport the person plays, while still affordable to publish details of an anti-prostitution campaigners sideline in paying for sex, basically.


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