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British Court Rules Against Blogger Anonymity 238

Posted by Soulskill
from the reasonable-expectations-often-aren't dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In a dangerous judgment for British bloggers and whistleblowers, a British court has ruled (absurdly) that because blogging itself is a public activity, bloggers have 'no reasonable expectation of privacy' regarding their identities, and newspapers are allowed to publish their identities if they can find them by fair or foul means. A British police detective who recently won the Orwell Prize for his excellent political writing used his blog to write highly critical accounts of police activities and unethical behavior, making very powerful enemies in the process. A well-funded newspaper with powerful connections quickly heard of his blog and decided it was absolutely vital to expose his identity using an investigative journalist. Like any good newspaper, the blogger anonymized the people and the locations in all the cases he discussed on his blog, but the newspaper alleges these were not sufficiently anonymized and complains that they could work out the identities, though British newspapers don't complain that they are allowed to publish the identities of men who are falsely accused of rape and cleared in court. The newspaper also helpfully contacted the blogger's employer, and his job is now threatened."
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British Court Rules Against Blogger Anonymity

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  • Police state (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsa (15680) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:15PM (#28363337) Homepage

    If you live in the EU but also want to live in a police state, look no further. Great(?) Britain is the place to be.

  • by auric_dude (610172) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:19PM (#28363389)
    The blog is no longer accessible http://nightjack.wordpress.com/ [wordpress.com] and can not be reached via http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://nightjack.wordpress.com/ [archive.org]
  • Appeal? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plasmacutter (901737) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:20PM (#28363399)

    So can this be appealed to a higher court, and will the order be stayed until such time as it can be reviewed?

    I don't see this as an issue until it sets national precedent, otherwise its much like the other short-sighted and technically incompetent rulings in podunk areas of the US later overturned by more discriminating higher courts.

    • The constable has no reason to appeal, he's already been fingered. I'm not sure who else would have standing ...

      --dave

      • The constable has no reason to appeal, he's already been fingered. I'm not sure who else would have standing ...

        Since he's been made the example, he should remain an example and appeal in the hopes that a better judgment might fiat the corrupt judge's rulings and that such a better judgement might be a standard, rather than the corrupt judge's admitted "I'm not going to listen to that argument, because I hate you." ruling be the standard for expectation of anonymity in whistleblowing. Then again, I don't know the British court system.

        There are a few cases I've heard of where I would have to have been held in conte

        • by davecb (6526) *

          If so, we will probably need to fund him enthusiastically, as he'd likely lose his job, as well as need significant backing just to hire the kind of representation he'll need.

          EFF UK, perhaps?

          --dave

          • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @05:15PM (#28366393) Journal

            So many people are missing the point.

            A. Revealing a whistleblower bad.

            B. Government censorship bad.

            C. B >> A in importance, so says history.

            Just because one thinks one is more important doesn't imply one thinks the other is wrong. You can think both are important and then do a value-judgement on which should take precedence. Personally, I think history shows the latter over the former. "Legally anonymous" whistleblowers are a good, but woefully inadequate, watchdog on a government with the legal ability to censor.

  • by dan_sdot (721837) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:21PM (#28363405)
    First things first: it is hugely unethical to "expose" a blogger who wishes to remain anonymous. The newspaper should be ashamed of itself, and I recommend unsubscribing if you subscribe to it currently. Also, send them a letter telling them why you are unsubscribing.

    That said.... what was the court supposed to do? Penalize the newspaper for doing investigative journalism? Throw the editor in jail for finding out the name of a blogger? "Court Rules Against Blogger Anonymity" is a bit overdone, don't you think?
    • More to the point of double standards...

      What has this newspaper done in the last ten years where they have cited anonymous sources? Would they like another newspaper or perhaps a blogger to helpfully find out their sources and out them to their employers?

      I'm pretty confident that they would have something to say on behalf of anonymity when it comes to their "service".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        What has this newspaper done in the last ten years where they have cited anonymous sources?

        He's not just a source he's the author. Authors are doing things in public hence they don't have any presumption of privacy. Sources talk privately to a journalist, since it is a private conversation they have a presumption of privacy. If he wanted anonymity he should have been a whistle blower and talked to a journalist.

        • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:28PM (#28364277)

          ...but since he dared to cut the middle man and publish himself he should be punished?

          Are you working for some record label or what?

          • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @03:51PM (#28365393)

            ...but since he dared to cut the middle man and publish himself he should be punished?

            Did you actually read what was in the blog?

            Are you still sure he shouldn't be punished?

            Perhaps we should start allowing doctors and lawyers to violate doctor-patient confidentiality and attorney-client privilege as well, as long as they pseudo-anonymise the blogs where they do it? Then we could start respecting the anonymous briefing around Westminster, because those guys are totally doing it for the good of everyone, and I'd definitely want the media to give full weight to what they have to say without putting their name to it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by lgw (121541)

          Journalists do not have magic powers. There's no reason why you should have to allow a journalist to put his spin on your account in order to retain anonymity. It's critical to give whistleblowers anonymity if you want to protect yourself from your government. Sadly, the fundamental truth that we need to protect ourselves from our governemnt before any other threat seem to have lost popularity in recent decades.

          • It's critical to give whistleblowers anonymity if you want to protect yourself from your government.

            That is exactly why our present government is cracking down in this case. The fact that our government is cracking and also down in all other possible senses of either word, can be considered contributory factors.

        • Someone has to author a whistle blower's complaint. If the act of authoring nullifies any expectation of anonymity, well, goodbye whistleblowing.

          The newspaper guilty of outing an anonymous blogger is morally bankrupt. They should have been publishing the facts that the blogger was blogging about, not going after the blogger.

      • by univalue (1563403)
        yes, it seems to be a double standard, for someone who like to quote anonymous sources then out somebody else anonymous sources.
    • I have to agree here. Although I think it was unethical for them to expose him, so long as all information was obtained legitimately it is not and should not be illegal. If it was obtained illegally in any way then lock up the journalist who committed the crime and fine the newspaper.

      Journalistic ethics should be enforced through money, laws are a different issue.

      The days of journalists keeping the government in check and acting as the 4th estate I am afraid are long gone however, the papers are all owned b

      • so long as all information was obtained legitimately

        It wasn't. He claimed to be a police officer. He had no right to comment publicly about ongoing investigations.

        The days of journalists keeping the government in check and acting as the 4th estate I am afraid are long gone however.

        Possibly. Here's the problem though, I don't know that journalists themselves have the right to write anonymously. They write can write under pseudonyms but they don't have any protection from being "outed" as far as I know. By definition, you can't have any presumption of privacy for things you do in public. They can protect their sources, but if they claim to be their own sources well ...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:48PM (#28363797)

      Actually, no, the government didn't "stay out of it". That's the problem in this case, you see. He upset lots of very senior politicians with his acerbic writing. Two of them in particular - including one extremely wealthy guy who serves in a senior role in the government - were so pissed off about it, they wanted to know who the author was and silence him. They pulled strings with their great friend(s) at the very well-funded British newspaper empire who were persuaded it was so important, urgent and "in the public interest anyway" that immediately approval was given to throw a large part of that financial year's remaining contingency account funds at an investigative journalism team with orders to "get answers 'yesterday'". This case is all about people in positions of power abusing their positions by asking friends in other positions of power to do a little backscratching for them. Call it the old boys' network. It's an absolute disgrace that this sort of thing is still going on and it is an affront to democracy. The timing is very suspicious, as the blogger was just about to blog about a corruption case, not yet exposed, involving some very senior politicians. What a coincidence his blog stopped just then. Maybe time for somebody else should take up the cudgel... Anon for a damn good reason.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spacefiddle (620205)

      Oh don't fool yourself. The papers know they're obsolete, and need to keep "real journalism" in their own ad-laden, corporate owned pages. You just try to make a major-outlet reporter reveal sources and name names; no really, go ahead. I want to watch.

      Blogging isn't safe! Trust the paper! Argh bleah puke. Gimme a break. Yeah, you're right, they should be ashamed. So what? Do you see "for shame!" holding a lot of weight in politics or business..? I don't think "and they should be ashamed of themselv

    • Unethical according to you.

  • Shocked (Score:5, Funny)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:22PM (#28363419)

    Britain? Monitoring? Censorship?

    Surely you jest!

  • I for one... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    look forward to once more rising up against these tyrants and liberating ourselves from their oppression.

    It has worked in the past... Which makes me think people are a LOT stupider than they used to be; because the option is never presented as a viable solution anymore.

    • Here's [wikipedia.org] your answer. It's not viable because it's not feasible.
      • by Smivs (1197859)

        Here's [wikipedia.org] your answer. It's not viable because it's not feasible.

        The above link takes you to the Wikipedia entry concerning gun control in th UK, suggesting (somewhat naively) that people need guns to be 'strong'.

        This is patently not so, providing the conditions are right. For a good modern example remind yourself of the Velvet Revolution [wikipedia.org].

        • Good god man, you don't have to look any farther than Ireland to find out how the British government feels about using the military against their own citizens^W subjects.
          • by Smivs (1197859)

            Actually the military were in Ireland (most recently at least) to protect the civilian population from armed terrorists.
            The government doesn't fare too well [wikipedia.org] against it's own people when they get pissed off !

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by turing_m (1030530)

      Which makes me think people are a LOT stupider than they used to be; because the option is never presented as a viable solution anymore.

      Not more stupid, just more effective means of control (press, TV, education system) coupled with an acceptable standard of living that prevents people from revolting. The option is not presented because it is not in the interest of the presenters.

    • by gubers33 (1302099)
      An Anonymous Poster talking about rising up. I am going to do some investigative reporting, expose your true identity and put your plot in jeparody.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'll miss out on TV and shopping if protest.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:24PM (#28363437)

    You should have the right to privacy if you want it, but I can't really take anyone seriously that doesn't have the balls to put a face behind a post when it comes to criticizing the powers-that-be, corruption or the like. If it's not worth putting yourself on the line, it's not worth reading.

    Quite frankly, if you don't have guts, don't bother. AC because I don't have an account and this post, quite frankly, worth the time of making one.

    • by davecb (6526) * <davec-b@rogers.com> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:30PM (#28363527) Homepage Journal

      Then only persons with nothing to lose will dare to criticize. That is bad public policy, and the reason that various countries have "whistleblower" laws.

      --dave

      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        Then only persons with nothing to lose will dare to criticize. That is bad public policy, and the reason that various countries have "whistleblower" laws.

        There's a different between going to a regulatory agency to blow the whistle, and publicly posting under a psudonym and trying to obscure the identity of yourself and others. In the first case, you are protected by law, and are directly solving the problem. In the case of a blog, you're only anonymous until someone unravels the information you made public yourself. If it wasn't the newspaper, it could have been anyone else. If he wanted to take advantage of privacy laws, he should have followed proper c

    • by mcgrew (92797)

      If it's not worth putting yourself on the line, it's not worth reading.

      He could have identified himself without creating an account. Like this:

      You should have the right to privacy if you want it, but I can't really take anyone seriously that doesn't have the balls to put a face behind a post when it comes to criticizing the powers-that-be, corruption or the like. If it's not worth putting yourself on the line, it's not worth reading.

      Quite frankly, if you don't have guts, don't bother. AC because I don't hav

  • by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:24PM (#28363447) Homepage

    Related, but not the same thing at all.

  • Foul play (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:25PM (#28363453) Homepage Journal

    newspapers are allowed to publish their identities if they can find them by fair or foul means.

    So foul is fair and illegal is legal? Welcome to the 21st century, kids.

    I can see why they should be able to out someone if they got the identity by subtrefuge, but if the identity is gained through illagel means, that's different. Or should be, at least.

    • I can see why they should be able to out someone if they got the identity by subtrefuge, but if the identity is gained through illagel means, that's different. Or should be, at least.

      Hmm... Why should the means of investigation matter?

      I understand why it matters for admissibility in court--that's about protecting citizens from the government's violation of rights. We want to give government officials strong incentive not to tread on civil rights.

      But if it's legal for me to publish a fact, why should I

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:27PM (#28363487)
    There is no there there in this ruling. All the court said was that if a newspaper can find out who a blogger is, they can publish that information. This was not the court saying that the blog host had to tell the police who it was. There is some questionable logic used by the judge, but this is not a case of government abuse of power. It is a case of a a reporter doing investigative reporting.
  • by Deosyne (92713) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:27PM (#28363489)

    Continuously publish on the Internet, become popular, and expect to remain anonymous? Yeah, good luck with that. Even sources that abstract themselves in the process by providing the information to reporters risk exposure in doing so. Eliminating the middle man just means that there are less people to go through when trying to get to the source. I salute the dude for trying to get the word out about immoral police practices but reality doesn't much care about intent.

    On a side note, that summary is a mess, even discounting the repeated attempts to slant the crap out of the story.

  • Orwell Prize? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7&cornell,edu> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:31PM (#28363537) Homepage

    The linked Wikipedia page for the article summary has no one named Horton as an Orwell Prize recipient (or even anyone who has made the shortlist) in any year, let alone 2008 or 2009.

  • by Derekloffin (741455) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:33PM (#28363571)
    It won't be the US that falls into a totalitarian regime masking itself as a democracy. Not for lack of trying, but the UK has a lead on them they'll never catch up.
  • by pigpilot (733494)

    In the UK journalists have never had a right to remain anonymous.

    In fact there are only a handful of people with a right to remain anonymous when their identiy may be easily found out and these are typically rape victims or minors.

    As to the blogger who is certainly breaching his own employment contract and may in fact be breaking the law by disclosing confidential information it is the height of arrogance for them to assume they are somehow above everyone else.

    There is an assumption that a persons private

    • by FourthAge (1377519) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:09PM (#28364093) Journal

      I read his blog, all of it, and I can assure you that he didn't reveal any confidential details, no matter what Sunday Times hacks might claim. His exposure was not in the public interest. It was in the Government's interest.

      In any case, politics was a very minor aspect of Nightjack's blog. He started off writing just about his work; both positive and negative aspects of being a detective. Some of the best stories on the blog (e.g. his "24 hours to crack the case" series) dealt with successful work that he had been involved with. Some were not about policing at all.

      However, the UK Government is always interfering with the police. Their social policies cause a lot of problems which the police are required to solve. The UK is not a socialist paradise, it is a complete mess, and this is because of the malice and incompetence of our "elected" rulers. In a minority of posts, Nightjack told the public exactly what he had to deal with, and after the Orwell Prize raised his profile, he became an embarrassment to the police and to the Government. That was his "crime" and that's why he was shut down. It doesn't help the public, it helps the Government, because that's one fewer dissenting voice.

      • in the U.S. we're supposed to have a free press, not government owned. Unfortunately, consolidation of ownership of media outlets have reduced the "free press" to mouth pieces of the agendas they're trying to push. Blogs like Nightjack's are the last true free press now.

    • by Eil (82413)

      There is an assumption that a persons private life can remain private unless there is a "public interest" that overrides it, but a person's identity is not protected.

      When we talk about freedom of speech, "speech" means the expression (and usually distribution) of ideas. Supressing speech is censorship. There cannot be true freedom of speech without anonymity. There cannot be true freedom without freedom of speech.

      I know the British people have never been all that excited about their individual rights, but t

  • by Budenny (888916) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:37PM (#28363663)

    The blogger in question left enough clues around in his postings that he could be easily identified. Like he for instance referred to his position in the Force, and then referred to his membership in an athletic club. There only was one office of that rank in that club's membership. He then described cases he had been involved in, without adequately disguising the details, so it was clear that it could only have been that case that the blog referred to as having been one the blogger had been involved in.

    He then sought to prevent the Times from publishing his name.

    Well, surely, if you want anonymity, make at least some effort to stop people finding out who you are? It does not seem very rational to leave around all the clues anyone needs to identify you, but to focus your efforts on making it legally impossible for them to publish it, once they have made the fairly small effort required to find out.

    A case which really touched on the anonymity of bloggers would be one in which it was undiscoverable by ordinary means such as the above, but the courts ordered the ISP or provider to disclose the identity. Now that would be a different and much more serious issue.

    • by PPH (736903)

      The blogger in question left enough clues around in his postings that he could be easily identified. Like he for instance referred to his position in the Force, and then referred to his membership in an athletic club.

      I'm not familiar with UK libel law, but this blogger might only be trying to skirt strict libel laws. Not explicitly identifying himself or the persons he accuses of wrongdoing could provide him with a defense in the event that someone tries to charge him with libel. They'd have to prove that the hypothetical person he described was in fact the plaintiff. And if that proof involved having to reveal that this person was in fact the one accused of committing the crimes attributed to the fictional character, t

      • Heh...

        "What? You? No, I didn't have you in mind when writing this. Ummmm.... why do you think I meant you?"

    • Good catch. But I still think it stinks to expose someone's identity when they wish to remain anonymous. There might be circumstances when public interest would be served by such exposure, but this was not one of them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ljw1004 (764174)

        I think most investigative journalism involves identifying people who wish to remain anonymous... "Which politician was the recipient of this bribe? (sorry, he wants to remain anonymous)"

    • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:42PM (#28364437) Homepage
      You're barking up the wrong tree: the question is, why would a trustworthy investigative journalist be going after this guy's identity in the first place! If anything, they should be teaming up to uncover police corruption all the way to the top!

      My credit card records and gym memberships might limit the group of people to which I could belong - but come on, investgated by a crusading heroic journalist, like some sort of child molester?

      • by PitaBred (632671)
        Bloggers aren't journalists, not when you work at a newspaper. They're competition. Don't think for a moment that wasn't what the Times was thinking when they published this. They aren't out to make the world a better place... they're out to make a buck. And bloggers are cutting into that, so they have all kinds of incentive to make it dangerous for any reporting done by anyone that's not under their control.
  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:38PM (#28363671)

    Britain is the world's capital of libel tourism [nytimes.com]. Because of that, the ubiquitous CCTV coverage, and the RIP act, it's on my list of places to never visit, along with, say, the Congo.

    PARIS -- You're an investment bank in Iceland with a complaint about a tabloid newspaper in Denmark that published critical articles in Danish. Whom do you call?

    A pricey London libel lawyer.

    That is called libel tourism by lawyers in the media trade. And Britain remains a comfortable destination for the rich in search of friendly courts, which have already weighed complaints from people who consider themselves unfairly tarred with labels like tax dodger, terrorist financier or murky Qaeda operative.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Malc (1751)

      Of course, the article isn't from a country notorious for over-stepping its borders in applying its law. The US would never do that, right?

      Personally I prefer the UK system. False defamation can cause a lot of damage that might never be fully taken back or fully compensated for. Why should somebody have to prove the defamation is false? That's rather harsh, don't you think? That's like guilty until proven innocent. There are newspapers in the UK that already toe and almost flout the line of this law,

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by schon (31600)

        Disclaimer: I am a UK citizen.

        Personally I prefer the UK system.

        Evidently that's because you don't understand it.

        False defamation can cause a lot of damage that might never be fully taken back or fully compensated for. Why should somebody have to prove the defamation is false? That's rather harsh, don't you think?

        The problem isn't that someone has to prove that the defamation is false (which is wrong, BTW), the problem is that in the UK it doesn't matter whether it's true or not - in the UK, if you accuse someone of defamation, they can be found guilty even if they can prove their statements were true.

        That's like guilty until proven innocent.

        Only because you're misrepresenting the facts. Neither the US nor the UK defamation laws work the way you believe.

  • (absurdly) (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Korbeau (913903)

    Please do not state strong opinions out of nowhere in parenthesis without backing them up or giving a source in a first sentence of a summary.

  • The Biggest Danger (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gijoel (628142)
    I'm of two minds about this.

    Firstly I think the cop did act in an unprofessional manner by airing opinions about cases that should only have been brought up in court. IANAL, but I wouldn't be surprised if some lawyer tried to use this blog as a way of getting their client reduced/dismissed charges.

    Secondly, this is going to harm whistleblowers in the future. People are going to be less likely to air their thoughts and opinions if they have think its' going to be traced back to them.

    We live in an a
  • what else? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps someone's voting preferences will be made public now since it's done in public as well?

  • You Fail (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mattwarden (699984) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:48PM (#28363807) Homepage

    Summary fails. Gagging the newspaper from printing newsworthy information it discovered would be outrageous.

    • by lgw (121541)

      Yes, God forbid we prevent a major corporarion from crushing individuals that dare to complete with their outdated business models. Destroy the lives of those outragous people who actualy provide the product I falsly claim to provide, says I!

  • by sirwired (27582) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:53PM (#28363873)

    Okay, let's say I did have a reasonable expectation of privacy when posting anonymously online... I own a restaurant and start spamming nasty (but not libelous) reviews about the competition. Does that make it illegal for my competitor to point out that my reviews come from their business rival (and therefore are biased) if they figure out it's me? Should they be able to use a subpeona to find out? No. But if they figure it out without breaking any laws, or abusing the legal process, why shouldn't they be able to publish what they have figured out?

    Now that would be horrible violation of free speech. As anyone with any familiarity of 1st amendment law knows (and yes, I know this case is in the UK), prior restraint is subject to strict scrutiny. This doesn't even come close to meeting that standard. I can't imagine a single lowly district judge that wouldn't slap any such law down without hesitation.

    SirWired

    • by lgw (121541)

      As long as you're anonymous, your competion should be free to *claim* that all criticism comes from a business rival, even if it doesn't. Anonymous sources shpuld be given the least possible credibility. It should be impossible to *reduce* the credibility of a source by outing it!

      If only we could cure pople of believing what they read.

  • Not the government (Score:5, Interesting)

    by R2.0 (532027) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:58PM (#28363937)

    I'm not sure if you are aware of what a "free press" is, but that means they are generally allowed to say what they want as long as it is not libelous. One of the only constraints regarding publishing a person's name is that, if they are not public figures, nor done something to get into the public record, they don't get their name published.

    Since this guy was a public figure, and was doing things to get himself in the public record, he is not protected. So the court got it right.

    What you seem to be saying is that, if I stand on a street corner spouting whatever political drivel I feel like, and I don't put my name on a placard in front of me, NO ONE is allowed to say who I am? So is someone is listening to me and says "Hey, who is this guy?" and someone else says "That's R2.0 - I recognize him from the same drivel on Slashdot", I can sue?

  • No win situation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jools33 (252092) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:59PM (#28363949)

    Whichever way this was ruled the paper could release the identity of the blogger - if they ruled against allowing publication of identity then the paper could just release the identity in an anonymous blog and with the new restriction in place noone could release the papers identity either... a catch 22.

  • by DaveGod (703167) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:07PM (#28364073)

    I don't see why he should expect a right to privacy. If you are going to make public accusations and attacks, then the other parties have a right to defend. If he was merely debating a matter of principle (purely philosophical) then his person would be irrelevant to the argument and yes it would be at a minimum very bad form to name him. But he was pointing figures about specific organisations.

    The right of free speech does not confer any kind of right to anonymity. That is a specific right only granted where it is in the public interest. Indeed it is the reverse: with rights comes responsibility; if you want to say things then be prepared to defend it. There is no question over free speech here, the newspaper is not restricting what he is saying on his blog, they are merely calling it to account (whether you agree with their argument or not).

    That does not at all mean newspapers etc should have an automatic right to discover his information. But if they are able to discover the name via legitimate means, that's his fault for not covering himself.

    Note he is the one actively publishing, publicising and promoting his allegations. This is important. It is only those whom publish allegations that should be held responsible for them. One issue with UK Law* is that it considers any comment posted online without restricted access to be publishing, failing to distinguish between what is really publishing and what is merely chit chat.

    * (by UK law I mean the various laws in the UK member states, there is no such thing as "UK Law").

    • by PitaBred (632671)
      Right on. Whistleblowers should have no protections, and you should always live in fear of retribution for what you have ever said from people with more money and influence in the legal system than you have. Why should we encourage people to expose corruption? Let's just keep it all swept under the rug, with the implicit threat of public unmasking and blackballing or worse as a way to keep people from getting the truth out.
    • by malkavian (9512)

      There are also quite a few whistleblower laws, and methods of keeping sources anonymous.
      There's a notable case of a local newspaper (the Bristol Evening Post) that used to have a column where the author was known only as "Barry Beelzebub", where he published a lot of hard talking, and definitely not politically correct topics. His name was very much kept away from public knowledge, yet his column was spectacularly popular.
      There are many cases where journalists use pseudonyms, and keep their true identity w

  • by 91degrees (207121) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:17PM (#28364179) Journal
    The court has not ruled that anonymity is illegal. The court has simply ruled that should a newspaper have some information that it considers newsworthy, it is entitled to publish.

    Personally, I think it was rather reprehensible of a newspaper not to respect confidentiality as a matter of policy but it's their legal right and it's up to the blogger to protect his own anonymity.
  • by EWAdams (953502) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:21PM (#28364203) Homepage

    Whistleblowers are usually protected by the law, and get support from the press and friendly politicians into the bargain.

    This guys breached his employment contract and doesn't want to take the consequences. Incidentally, all he got was a reprimand. AND he wrote an article (therefore got paid) for the very same publication that outed him!

  • The real story here, is that the UK government is trying to censor the opinions of its employees. This is totally unacceptable. The officer should be free to express whatever political opinions he wants, including being critical of his superiors, as long as he does it when he is off-duty. This really makes me angry. Everyone seem to be ignoring just how bad this type of censorship is, instead focusing on the fact that they "outed" him. The real issue is the fact that he needed to be anonymous in the fi

    • by gsslay (807818) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:51PM (#28364587)

      The real story here, is that the UK government is trying to censor the opinions of its employees.

      No, that's not the real story. that's the story you've made up in your head. Where exactly is the involvement of the UK Government in this story? You won't find any, because there isn't any.

      This police officer was in a position of trust, with access to sensitive information that has a very real impact on people's lives. And he was publishing it on the internet with flimsy anonymity. This is nothing to do with his political opinions, it's about flagrant abuse of his position. This is some guy gossiping about people's lives because he believed he knew better than everyone else.

      Frankly, losing his own anonymity is the least of what he had coming.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hackel (10452)

        I didn't actually read the linked article (Times? Really?), I had only read the BBC article on the subject yesterday: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8103731.stm [bbc.co.uk]

        A serving detective whose anonymous blog carried criticisms of government ministers and police bureaucracy has been disciplined by his force.

        ...

        Mr Justice Eady said the blog contained opinions on a number of social and political issues relating to the police and the administration of justice.

        He added 'Night Jack' had expressed strong opinions on matters of political controversy and had also criticised a number of ministers.

        The judge said the blogger had known he risked disciplinary action if his employers found out one of its officers was communicating to the public in such a way.

        This was one of the main reasons why "Night Jack" was keen to maintain his anonymity, he added.

        Certainly sounds like unreasonable political censorship to me.

  • The right to privacy is pretty much limited to things you do inside your own home. Once you put something in a public space, it's not longer private. There has never been any right to publish anonymously, or be quoted anonymously. Think of all those investigative reporters who spent years trying to uncover Deep Throat. (Yes this is a US example, but law in the US and the UK are based on the same common law principles.)

    • Except that the US has broken from the UK in a couple of areas. One of which is the idea that the 1st amendment right to freedom of speech protects anonymous speech as well (that's gone back and forth a bit in the online arena, but the idea of the anonymous pamphleteer hasn't vanished), and the second is libel law, where the statement has to be untrue and malicious in intent to qualify as libel in the US. The way speech is handled in the UK often seems to be as much about protecting the well-heeled and powe

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