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NZ Judge Bans Online Publishing of Accuseds' Names 219

Posted by timothy
from the a-bit-arbitrary dept.
The Master Moose writes "A judge in New Zealand has banned the press from reporting online the names of two men accused of murder. The names of the men will be allowed to be reported in print as well as through Television and Radio broadcast. It would seem he has taken this step to prevent someone 'googling' these peoples names in the future and finding them linked to a crime if found innocent."
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NZ Judge Bans Online Publishing of Accuseds' Names

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  • What's the point? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by haltenfrauden27 (1338125) on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:03AM (#24734231) Homepage

    Ok, so the judge banned the press from doing this. But it's impossible to stop some random person (probably not even in New Zealand) from posting this information online. Sounds like maybe this judge needs to think a little harder about how the Internet works.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:07AM (#24734267)
    ... that seems entirely reasonable.

    Until people such as employers, potential girl/boy-friends realise that:

    1.) there are more than one person with each name

    2.) almost nothing on the internet is corroborated, valdated or authenticated, it's mostly rumour - so far as individuals go

    3.) old information never dies and bad new travels much faster than good news

    Then it's a hopelessly unreliable medium for information to make judgements about someone.

  • Privacy of Courts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcelrath (8027) on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:13AM (#24734309) Homepage

    I've always thought withholding names of the accused was a damn good idea. An innocent person should not have his life, reputation, or finances ruined, and the fact of the matter is, an accusation (even if false) can be damning for life.

    However, this runs counter to the "openness" requirement of democracies: that the public should be able to discover what their public officials are doing. In this case, court cases must be a matter of public record so that transparency of the judicial branch can be maintained. You wouldn't want the judges/DA's/police doing secret prosecutions.

    So, does some happy medium exist? Can we withhold the names of the accused in print/internet and maintain judicial transparency? This could fall under defamation or slander laws if the person is later found innocent. There are mechanisms in place to recover costs for innocent people, but none to recover the damage done to reputations.

  • by florescent_beige (608235) on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:14AM (#24734319) Journal

    Sounds like maybe this judge needs to think a little harder about how the Internet works.

    Maybe you should think a little harder about how humans work.

    Is the internet a tool in the service of mankind or vice-versa? Anything the internet wants the internet gets? What if the internet wants to publish every hot chat you ever had with who you thought was a woman but was actually a 9 year old boy? It's the internet, we have to give it what it wants, sorry.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:24AM (#24734371) Homepage

    Is the internet a tool in the service of mankind or vice-versa? Anything the internet wants the internet gets?

    Your missing the point entirely. You can't control Internet by gagging a few editors because the Internet is full of normal people blogging away about the things that interest them. Between them and google this means their names will be all over the Internet anyway. The only effect it will have is to make online publishers into second class press, a group that has to self-censor or be censored because the Internet is such a dangerous place. If there's anything like freedom of the press in NZ, I'd appeal that one all the way over the discrimination compared to other media.

  • by vidarh (309115) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:30AM (#24734411) Homepage Journal
    The problem is that publishing an equally large headline saying they've been acquitted will NOT equate to reversing the damage done by the original headlines. Show humans a horrible accusation and then immediately show them a claim that the original accusations aren't true and a fair share of us will STILL believe the original accusation, or remember the original accusation but not the retraction later on, or remember both but still be thinking "what if" and treat the person accused as if the accusations were true. And that is even assuming all the same people ready it. In fact, given how humans think, a fair number of people who did NOT read the names in the original accusations might believe the original accusations once they see the retractions.

    I don't know what the right answer is, but I do think media does have a responsibility to thread carefully. They can't hide behind the "but people have a right to know" when they know there is a good chance they will be ruining someones life forever even if what they report is written in ways that are factually true - they don't live in a vaccum, and even if they are legally on solid ground, there are ethical and moral issues to take into account.

    Often, I question what their motives even are with publishing the names. If the person in question is being kept in custody during the trial there is no compelling public interest in making the name and picture public unless the police is still looking for more information, for example. If the person is free, I can see some interest particularly in the local area, but that wouldn't justify a national newspaper plastering it over the front page for example.

    The name will mean nothing to most people until it's been hammered into their heads by the media. But afterwards that person is effectively screwed whether or not they're found guilty.

  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:48AM (#24734483)

    Hah!
    unless the NSA or magical imps are after you then complete anonymity can be gained by a few simple steps.

    1: Find 3 or more VPN/proxy services located in different countries. Look for ones which claim to not keep any logs.
    2: Change your MAC address.
    3: Drive out to some random carpark with your laptop and hop on an open network/WEP network.
    4: Connect through proxies/VPN's.
    5: Do whatever the fuck you want.

    Anyone who can trace you at this point has magical powers or already knows who you are and has cameras in your shower.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:54AM (#24734505) Homepage Journal

    There's nothing stopping restrictions that essentially make it legal only to publish the name in official proceedings, and make people jump to a tiny extra hoop to get at them. It doesn't need to be impossible to get at - you just need to prevent it from being shoved in peoples places.

    But the internet makes it easy to get around measures like this. For example google might index the court website. Its a bit like how your phone number was right there in the phone book but as soon as it became possible to search for a person by number it became an issue for some people.

  • by jacquesm (154384) <.moc.ww. .ta. .j.> on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:55AM (#24734507) Homepage

    Better yet, allow the party that was found to be not guilty to enter a suit claiming damages against anybody that distributed the information.

    Trial by media is not the way to get a good judicial system.

  • by florescent_beige (608235) on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:55AM (#24734509) Journal

    You can't control Internet by gagging a few editors because the Internet is full of normal people blogging away about the things that interest them.

    If I google someone and find only blog gossip that is different from finding an article in the New York Times. 99% of blogs are no more than two ladies with their hair in curlers talking over the back fence.

    I believe this will become more and more true in the future when it will become clear that random blogs can and often do contain outright lies.

    Let's say I mouth off about totalitarian China. Then some Chinese operative (love that word, so rarely get to use it in a sentence) writes a blog falsely claiming to have read about my child molestation trial in the Sydney Morning Herald. How long before every single person on the planet has their character assassinated that way? Not long I bet.

    Having said all that I don't dispute you have a point. I can think of ways around these things, none of them perfect, all of them painful. The alternative is to give up age-old ideas of privacy. Which should we do?

  • by Drantin (569921) * on Monday August 25, 2008 @05:56AM (#24734517)

    Or step 5 includes enough information to discover your identity...

  • by robfoo (579920) on Monday August 25, 2008 @06:12AM (#24734587) Homepage

    Yes, but 'anyone at all' doesn't have the weight of a newspaper or other 'reputable' source behind them.
    I think the Judge has a pretty interesting idea here - of course the names will end up on the internet, but only in blog posts and such..

    For instance, if I was to google 'HungryHobo' and saw within the results a blog post saying "HungryHobo's mom is a crack whore", I'd probably disregard it.
    However, if I saw an article in the online version of an established dead-tree newspaper headlined "HungryHobo's mother implicated in drugs-for-sex scandal" then I'd be more inclined to believe it.

    However I'm not sure what would happen if a number of blog posts or other websites published the names along with links to articles about the case - google's page rank may effectively tie the names to the articles!

  • by stephanruby (542433) on Monday August 25, 2008 @06:35AM (#24734701)

    Sounds like maybe this judge needs to think a little harder about how the Internet works.

    No, this is happening because he's been thinking way too much on this topic already.

    The judge suffers from a weird case of self-centered career thesis myopia. He wrote a thesis/book titled internet.law.nz. He teaches a course on this very topic at the University of Auckland. He considers himself an expert in that area. And this is basically what happens when you make your local expert know-it-all -- a real judge -- with real powers. Common sense goes out the window, and super-conflated thesis-related academic mental masturbation takes over his every case.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @07:04AM (#24734823)

    But, if we didn't replay it a hojillion times, then we couldn't harness the power of the terrors for our own ends!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @07:14AM (#24734875)

    Do normal bloggers have anywhere near the experience that the main press does in cruel slander?

  • by bmsleight (710084) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:08AM (#24735205) Homepage
    If you follow the story - you see that the judge is trying to preserve justice and ensire they is a fair trial.

    So you want to post just to make a point ?

    Occasionally you have to way up the freedoms to ensure the greater freedom of a fair trial wins out.

  • by daveime (1253762) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:10AM (#24735213)

    I can't think of ANY reason to publish the name of ANYBODY "accused" of anything, for the simple reason that they are STILL innocent at that point.

    When the eventual verdict is delivered as guilty, then and ONLY THEN, can it be published that "Mr A N Other found guilty of charge" - NOT BEFORE.

    Many innocent people's reputations have been destroyed due to this system, and it's simply not right. neither is publish the name and then (maybe) publish a redaction at a later point in time ... the damage has already been done by then.

    It's the same as the judge instructing the jury to "forget the last witnesses statement" etc ... we cannot be programmed like machines to forget, and once tarred with a certain brush, it is not easy to remove that image from the mind of the general public.

  • by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Monday August 25, 2008 @08:45AM (#24735535) Journal

    I agree. Undermining this judge may have the side-effect of undermining the accused's life. It's bad enough that he has to deal with the Streisand Effect without people deliberately making it worse.

  • Linking (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dolohov (114209) on Monday August 25, 2008 @09:06AM (#24735727)

    It seems to me that one of the big problems is that news web sites consider their past articles and issues to be semi-sacred. They have a real phobia sometimes about changing old web sites (never mind the fact that it's frequently just not feasible) On the other hand, when new information comes out on a story, each new article links back to the old articles on the subject, which just as frequently do not link back.

    The result is two-fold. With more links to the original "So-and-so accused of murder" page, that's going to come up earlier when searching on that person's name. First impressions, and all that, particularly for really heinous crimes. Second, those initial pages will often not contain information on the outcome or links to articles on the outcome. This means that you have to care enough to sift through the rest of the results to find out whether the guy was actually guilty. How many people would bother, and how many would just file the name away under "murderer" and go on with their other browsing?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:24AM (#24737437)

    I was unjustly arrested on a gun charge in Los Angeles fifteen years ago, and I would be just fine with having that information on the web for anyone to Google. Why? Because if it ever comes up as an issue in the future, I can use the same technology to instantly prove my innocence.

    You wrongly imply that you will usually get the chance to prove your innocence. Do you honestly believe that you won't fail pre-screening in any bigger HR department thanks to your record? It may not bother you that some companies may no longer hire you, but that kind of resolve surely isn't the norm.

  • by jvkjvk (102057) on Monday August 25, 2008 @11:45AM (#24737763)

    I was unjustly arrested on a gun charge in Los Angeles fifteen years ago, and I would be just fine with having that information on the web for anyone to Google. Why? Because if it ever comes up as an issue in the future, I can use the same technology to instantly prove my innocence.

    Except what will happen (and probably even has) is that people will not confront you with this information. You will have no way to prove your innocence. They will have already read the charge and moved on. This is especially true of employers.

    How do you think you are going to prove you innocence when no one bothers to talk to you about it?

    And, even if you have the chance to "prove your innocence" the fact that you've been arrested is enough to tip some people's minds against you, some consciously many more subconsciously. Sucks, but people are indeed like that.

    The reason such information is public is so that both sides have equal access to the truth. If knowledge that someone has been arrested and charged with a crime becomes secret information, then that will lead to secret prosecutions. That's exactly the sort of thing our founders wanted to avoid.

    I don't see how your doomsday scenario follows from the premises. At all. Keeping arrest records off the net leads directly to secret prosecutions? Hmm. Well, maybe. Perhaps. There is likely to be a difference between "secret arrests" and non-public arrest records, though. Perhaps one would have to go down to City Hall to see arrest records, perhaps details are published only after a conviction - I don't know exactly what would work.

    But I do know that media publicity has lead to real harm to real people, documented cases where false arrests have ruined lives - even after charges were dropped or the person acquitted. This is a real cost, borne by the innocent. The judge is trying to find a way to mitigate this possibility.

    I think that the consequences you are postulating are far out of line with reality and that your casual dismissal of the consequences is in error.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday August 25, 2008 @12:14PM (#24738161) Journal

    I can't think of ANY reason to publish the name of ANYBODY "accused" of anything, for the simple reason that they are STILL innocent at that point.

    Court records are public documents.

    For your wish to come true, all the court filings will have to be The State vs John/Jane Doe. Then the Court docket would just be a list of "The State vs John/Jane Doe" and a case number... which is worse than meaningless. Police reports (also public documents) would have to have names removed. Mug shots (also public records) would have to have the names removed.

    Many innocent people's reputations have been destroyed due to this system, and it's simply not right.

    This is much like freedom of speech: with the good comes the bad.
    And ultimately, transparency is better than secrecy.

  • by Moleculo (1321509) on Monday August 25, 2008 @12:14PM (#24738163)
    Publishing the names of the accused has value beyond letting you know who (allegedly) is commiting crimes. It also serves as a check on the state's ability to lock up whoever they want for whatever reason they conceive. The public has no ability to judge the propriety of "a 26-year-old white male" getting arrested, or to come forward with information that might be relevant to the investigation. It's a lot easier if you know who they are, and it's vital to the fight against the police state.
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday August 25, 2008 @12:52PM (#24738693)

    Yes but NSA is not going to blow a carefully built cover intended for national security over a couple random guys.

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