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Blogger busted

By Steven | July 12, 2009

A British detective blogging about police issues under the pseudonym “NightJack” has failed in his attempt to stop the Times from revealing his identity.

The ruling suggests that anonymous bloggers don’t have a reasonable expectation that their identities will be kept private. Well, those who are breaching police regulations in writing their blog, anyway. But much of the reasoning applies to others too. Blogging, says Justice Eady, is essentially a public activity. It doesn’t gibe with the sorts of things that are usually protectable: information about personal relationships, mental or physical health, financial affairs or one’s family or domestic arrangements (or, as Geoffrey Robertson and Andrew Nicol put it: “the cradle, the school and the hospital, the toilet, the bedroom and the grave.”)

There’s a difference between wanting to remain anonymous and having a reasonable expectation of privacy, he ruled. For it to be protected, any reasonable person who comes across the information ought to recognise that it should be treated as confidential.

Even if the blogger did have a reasonable expectation of privacy, continued Eady J, the public interest in his identity outweighed his interest in privacy. He was breaching police regs. This could be seen as wrongdoing by a public servant. He was advancing political criticisms and was highly critical of central and local policing strategies. It’s useful for readers to be able to assess such opinions against knowledge about the identity of the source, said the judge.

In one sense, this can be seen as a triumph for freedom of expression. The paper was allowed to publish. The privacy threshold was set fairly high.

But in another sense, you can see this as a blow to free speech. Privacy and free speech lined up here: it was anonymity that allowed this exercise of free speech. The blog, which  provided insights into policing issues that otherwise wouldn’t have been available, and won a prestigious award, is now dead.

The price of free speech can sometimes be measured in … free speech.

Topics: General, Injunctions, Internet issues, Privacy tort | No Comments »


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