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British Court Rules Against Blogger Anonymity 238

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @01:23PM (#28363423)

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Re:Police state (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:05PM (#28364047)

    Don't worry, we feel the same way in Germany, not just since the Great Wall of Germany (http://yro.slashdot.org/story/09/06/16/1657255/A-Black-Day-For-Internet-Freedom-In-Germany)

  • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:07PM (#28364067)

    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, and making it laxer does nobody any favours.

    If these are reasons you're not going to visit the UK, then most of the world is off-limits to you, including such bastions of "freedom" as the United States. Seems to me that you've got nothing to lose by making such bold statements, and probably never intended to visit anyway. A bit like those hordes of Americans who proclaimed they'd come up here to Canada if GWB were re-elected... um, how many came?

  • 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!

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @02:37PM (#28364365) Journal

    If you say something in public you can't reasonably expect people not to know who you are.

    Why would you believe that? Without anonymous whistleblowing, the government can just kill anyone who objects to loudly (and many governments do just that). An anonymous blogger shouldn't have much credibility, but if what he's saying can be validated then he doesn't need much.

    You must be a working journalist hoping desperately to hold on to his job in a world that has moved on.

  • Re:Police state (Score:4, Interesting)

    by legirons ( 809082 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @03:19PM (#28364975)

    The parent has been modded "flaimbait", and perhaps it is, but it is also not far from the truth. Limmited privacy laws, CCTV everywhere, GB is the "poster child" for government intrusivness.

    arbitrary searches of innocent people [bbc.co.uk]

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

    by ChiRaven ( 800537 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @04:13PM (#28365639) Journal
    Don't be so smug if you're from the U.S.A., though. There is legislation under consideration that would outlaw anonymous presence on the internet AT ALL in this country ... EVERY web address and identity would have to be registered with the government. Hasn't passed yet, but it's being considered.
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @04:16PM (#28365669) Journal
    The point is that if you do find out the journalist's sources, you have the right to publish their names.
  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @05:10PM (#28366335) Journal

    How about the truth, then?

    "In an encouraging move affirming freedom of the press in Britain, a British judge has ruled against newspaper censorship, saying that a newspaper has the right to publish the name of a blogger if they are able to find it."

    Oh, wait. That's the same as the anti-spin to TFA. My bad.

    The only thing worse, historically, than newspapers ferreting out and publishing information is the legal ability of a government to prevent that. Yes, it's bad for this particular whistle blower. But not as bad as direct censorship.

  • Re:Not convinced... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dimeglio ( 456244 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @06:25PM (#28367217)

    Exposing wrong doing doesn't require someone to be identifiable but rather a trigger that might launch an investigation to confirm if there is in fact wrong doing and take corrective actions if necessary. For example, as a public servant your discover irregularities in the paperwork, you take it to you boss who says "everything is fine, don't worry about it." You feel obliged to do something but are afraid of losing your job and maybe your career, so you expose this scheme anonymously in a blog about government wrong doings. Unless there is a law that protects whistle blowers, you will likely be in trouble.

  • by Capsaicin ( 412918 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @10:46PM (#28369017)

    Since the source IS the journalist in this case, it is entirely inappropriate to strip them of their anonymity.

    Is it entirely appropriate for a court to interfere with the right of a newspaper to publish what they have discovered by investigative journalism, (in this case the name of an anonymous blogger) when such publication involves no untruth or defamation? Eady J thought not, and refused to issue an order gag order.

    I guess this comes down to which right one regards as paramount. The right to anonymity or the freedom of the press.

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