Archive for June 16th, 2009

Blogging and anonymity..

Today, a Times journalist outed the Police blogger ‘Nightjack’ when Mr Justice Eady cleared the way to do so after defying an injunction of disclosure of the blogger’s identity.

Iain Dale covered the story earlier and one of his commenters put the Eady J judgment up in segments. I provide the URL because the comments section on that post give a flavour of  reaction to Eady J’s judgment.

Briefly: Night Jack was a serving Police Officer in Lancashire.  He has been disciplined by his Force. (BBC) The issue about being a serving Police officer is not, as it happens,  important to the issue of whether an anonymous blogger, commenter, ranter is entitled to the protection of the law in keeping his or identity secret.

This Mr Justice Eady makes clear: “When I move, therefore, to the second stage, the exercise becomes somewhat artificial. That is because I have to proceed on the hypothesis that one or more public interest considerations have to be identified which would be capable of outweighing the Claimant’s right to privacy – when I have already held that no such right exists.”

So the issue for all bloggers, commenters, users of discussion boards etc etc seems to be this: Do you have a right to protect your anonymity in law should someone discover your identity, through lawful means,  and then reveal it to the world at large?

The answer is NO.

Mr Justice Eady makes this clear: “…..Those who wish to hold forth to the public by this means often take steps to disguise their authorship, but it is in my judgment a significantly further step to argue, if others are able to deduce their identity, that they should be restrained by law from revealing it.”

That seems to be it… in a nutshell. It is ironic for two reasons:

1. Journalists have gone to jail rather than reveal a source – yet now seem to be outing bloggers, who, it seems are not (always) journalists.

2. Names of judges found guilty of misconduct to stay secret
• Straw wins four-year battle to keep identities hidden
• Challenge by Guardian rejected by tribunal

There is no such thing as real anonymity – the disclosure of identity can be compelled by law in several situations.   I’m not over bothered about whether someone is or is not anonymous.  I used to keep the game of anonymity going long after I outed myself.  Some anonymous bloggers even get pissed and publish information about their identity on Twitter in error – which is always amusing.

I am pretty relaxed about commenters being anonymous on my blog. It depends whether I like what they say or not when they post anonymously.  But, it is, after all my blog.  I tend to leave anonymous comments up unless they are trying to persuade my readers to buy dodgy porn, viagra or how to improve their law practyices – in which case I delete when I find them. I would also block an anonymous commenter  if they were being abusive to another commenter.  Reasoned argument always sails through, even if anonymous.

There are law bloggers in the States who have adopted a NO Anonymity policy. That is their right and privilege.  Sometimes, however, a blogger wishes to be anonymous because they wish to share information without being seen as the source.  I can’t really see any problem with that.

Prats who go around acting big on blog comment sections or discussion boards, being hurtful to others, are just tedious.  Their abusve comments have absolutely no value.  If they wish to be critical or abusive  – have they got the courage to say that to someone’s face or in print using their true identity?  I suspect not in many such cases.  They are thus revealed as cowards and their comments discredited accordingly.

Finally – I will say this. I enjoy reading blogs written by anonymous bloggers.  They are either completely off the wall – anonymity allowing rants and a degree of amusing bad behaviour. Anonymous bloggers are rarely abusive to anyone not in the public eye and it is clear to even the meanest intelligence that more often than not their intention is to amuse, entertain and comment through satire or parody.  (If they pick on those who cannot defend themselves, I suspect the blogging community would not be that impressed).

I enjoyed reading NightJack’s blog. He gave us a valuable and interesting insight into policing in this country – which is in our, the public’s, interest.  As far as I know there is no suggestion he did anything illegal, nor did he compromise the identity of anyone he commented on. Frances Gibb in The Times does, however,  state… “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.

I can’t comment on that – but is it that likely that anyone would spend endless hours trying to do that? I doubt it – but I am happy to be told otherwise.

I’m not particularly  impressed with The Times for doing this. I think it was a piece of banal journalism and I hope that it will earn The Times and that journalist a degree of critical publicity. They have a right to investigate – but the story has the whiff of traditional journalists becoming jealous of non-traditional bloggers who are getting bigger audiences.  I don’t like that smell much.  I thought The Times was above that sort of thing.

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One of the good things about reading political blog and journo RSS feeds is that one gets tipped off about some bizarre events.  No… not ducks and moats this time – something a little bit more sinister… GUARDIA NAZIONALE ITALIANA.

Italy is one of my favourite countries.  I know it quite well.  I drink their wines, I eat their food and I murder their language….BUT… it is, for all its beauty and style, probably the most right wing country in Europe and becoming increasingly so with two parties, some say, to the right even of our ludicrous BNP and the buffoon who leads it. (I believe I am still entitled to indulge in vulgar abuse in our sceptred isle?  I shall consult Geeklawyer – the Grand Master of vulgar abuse when it comes to insults!)

Claude Carpentieri, writing in The Liberal Conspiracy, states: “The Italian government has just issued a White paper on law and order that gives the go-ahead to private vigilante groups. While the paper states that such groups will have to sign up to a licensing scheme, it’s interesting to take a peek at those who are enthusiastically jumping at the opportunity. Enter the Guardia Nazionale Italiana, whose website is currently recruiting “true Italian Nationalists and Patriots, people who are able to wear their uniform with pride and dignity, and for everything that it represents, are able to serve our land and the Italian people…. You may be excused if it rings familiar: black trousers with yellow band, black hat donning the Imperial Eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, khaki shirt carrying both Italian flag and a certain symbol (a black sun that is popular amongst German neo-nazis), black armband, black tie and black boots.”.

Well… even though many of them eat too many buns, I’d rather have our Police Community Support mob than these buffoons… who will, soon be marching in the Piazza of Firenze, Venezia, Siena and Roma…Have a look at their uniforms.

And now… a little light entertainment  to remind ourselves how mockery works….SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER from The Producers.

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Caption Competition

I haven’t had a caption competition for some time. There is a modest prize – a book on legal humour from Wildy & Sons to the winner.  As always, on my blog,  my decision is final.  It has to be thus, because I will probably be half in the bag when I make it.
I just could not resist this pic of Jack Straw from the Ministry of Justice website today.  What is he doing?

Over to you.

BTW… the news is up on Insite Law

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