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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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  • 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

  • Orwell Prize? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@co[ ]ll.edu ['rne' in gap]> 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 FourthAge (1377519) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:42PM (#28363739) Journal

    I am very sad that I did not take the opportunity to copy Nightjack's blog while it was still available, I assumed it would always stay online; silly of me, considering what has happened to other police bloggers after they are "outed".

    However, you can still read the post that won him the prize [blogspot.com] (it's the yellow text).

  • 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.

  • by Spyware23 (1260322) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:10PM (#28364107) Homepage

    http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fnightjack.wordpress.com [google.com]

    "In Cache" link works as usual. I think most/all data can be recovered this way.

  • Re:Police state (Score:5, Informative)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:30PM (#28364293)

    But at least you can feel... secure? This looks like satire, but scarily enough, it is real:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/toasty/2171185463/sizes/l/ [flickr.com]

  • Re:Orwell Prize? (Score:5, Informative)

    by arkhan_jg (618674) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:33PM (#28364323)

    He won the 2009 Orwell special prize [guardian.co.uk] for blogs - under the pseudonym he used on the blog, Jack Night.

    Wikipedia doesn't say much about the special prizes, only the Journalism and Book prizes.

  • Re:Police state (Score:3, Informative)

    by ZombieWomble (893157) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:45PM (#28364489)

    'Great Britain' refers to all the hundreds of islands around the British mainland.

    This is pretty much exactly wrong - "Great Britain" is the name of the island which could be described as the "British Mainland", which contains most of England, Scotland and Wales. 'Great' typically meaning "large", it's easy to see how that comes about.

  • by schon (31600) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:51PM (#28364591)

    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.

  • by hackel (10452) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @03:02PM (#28364743) Journal

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @03:05PM (#28364779)

    Incorrect for quite some time now, there are very few people considered "British subjects" any more. "Citizen" is the standard term.

    British subject [wikipedia.org]

    If you're going to resort to pedantry, make sure it's right, eh?

  • by FourthAge (1377519) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @03:38PM (#28365217) Journal

    He's the judge who ruled that Nightjack had no right to anonymity.

    This has caused some anger, because Eady has ruled that various other people (paedophiles, for example) do have a right to privacy.

  • Re:Police state (Score:2, Informative)

    by mdwh2 (535323) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @05:56PM (#28366897) Journal

    Indeed. It's worse than that - they've also taken to doing random drug searches at places of public transport, where everyone getting off a train that day is detained to be sniffed by a dog. I guess their logic is that because it's only a dog sniff, that doesn't in itself count as an official search (unless the dog barks, in which case you get pulled aside for a proper search). But the problem is that nonetheless people are forcibly detained, and I would be curious to see it tested in court.

    I experienced this the other weekend in Cambridge - despite the ridiculous over the top scale of it (I honestly thought there'd been a murder or bombscare, what with police and police tents all over the place, but oh no, it was fishing for drugs), they only had one dog, meaning a 30 minute delay in a queue before I was let out. My experience was similar to this write up of one in 2008 [urban75.org]. No explanation was given, nor any indication of what law we were being detained under.

    The Guardian reports that this sort of thing is becoming common at underground stations too:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/mar/31/internationalcrime [guardian.co.uk]

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/jul/09/drugsandalcohol [guardian.co.uk]

    Afterwards I took a photo, only to have an undercover police officer suddenly reveal himself to me, claiming I wasn't allowed to take pictures of him without permission. So to get slightly back on topic, apparently in Britain we have no right to privacy in a public place (whether it's blogging, or indeed CCTV, or indeed getting off of public transport), but for some reason that doesn't apply to the police...

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