Tuesday, June 16, 2009

UK court: Brit bloggers have no right to anonymity

The Times:
Thousands of bloggers who operate behind the cloak of anonymity have no right to keep their identities secret, the High Court ruled today

In a landmark decision, Mr Justice Eady refused to grant an order to protect the anonymity of a police officer who is the author of a blog called NightJack.
I ran across NightJack a couple of months ago, but had no idea there was a court case around it.
The officer, Richard Horton, 45, a detective constable with Lancashire Constabulary, had sought an injunction to stop The Times from revealing his name.

In April Mr Horton was awarded the Orwell Prize for political writing, but the judges were not aware that he was revealing confidential details about cases, some involving sex offences against children, that could be traced back to genuine prosecutions.

His blog, which gave a behind-the-scenes insight into frontline policing, included strong views on social and political issues, including matters of “public controversy,” the judge said.

The officer also criticised and ridiculed “a number of senior politicians” and advised members of the public under police investigation to “complain about every officer . . . show no respect to the legal system or anybody working in it.”

Mr Horton has now deleted his website and received a written warning from his force.

He has received several offers to publish a book after using the success of the blog to attract a literary agent.

Some of the blog’s best-read sections, which on occasion attracted nearly half a million readers a week, were anecdotes about the cases on which Mr Horton had worked.

The people and places were anonymised and some details changed but they could be traced back to the prosecutions.

In the first case dealing with the privacy of internet bloggers, the judge ruled that Mr Horton had no “reasonable expectation” to anonymity because “blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity”. . . .

The action arose after a Times journalist, Patrick Foster, worked out the identity of the NightJack blogger “by a process of deduction and detective work, mainly using information on the internet,” the judge said.

Hugh Tomlinson, QC, for the blogger, had argued that “thousands of regular bloggers who communicate nowadays via the internet under a cloak of anonymity would be horrified to think that the law would do nothing to protect their anonymity of someone carried out the necessary detective work and sought to unmask them”.

The judge said: “That may be true. I suspect that some would be very concerned and others less so.” . . .
Read whole thing.

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