Privacy,Twitter and the Law

Lord Soley

I think I am going to do some hard thinking about the growing problems relating to privacy. In the past I have resisted a law on privacy because of the way it limits investigative journalism but that is less likely now that we have the counter balance of freedom of speech enshrined in the European Convention.

The Courts have been working out a balance but some of the press are determined to breach privacy on any matter (usually sexual) that sells papers regardless of genuine public interest.

In the past I have seen the Internet as equivalent to gossip in the street – something you can’t regulate. This however, takes a more complex turn if, as seems likely, some journalists have been using it as a way of bringing issues into the public domain in order to enable papers to publish details of private lives.

People at all levels in society do have a right to privacy.

We have a complex problem. Any views?

17 comments for “Privacy,Twitter and the Law

  1. 23/05/2011 at 8:13 am

    I am of the mind that says, “something must be done” but frankly, I have no idea what to do.

    My biggest worry is that we are heading towards a political/legal crisis which will result in a lump of swiftly drafted and probably very bad legislation just to make the issue go away.

    I would think that it might be better to defer the issue while saying something will be done by means of the classic solution – the white paper/royal commission.

    If changes to legislation are proposed, at least they will be based on more measured opinion rather than hasty political need.

    However… if an investigation is made, I think it needs to ask what is the financial impact of “front page” stories. What is the scale of the financial incentive to write about other people’s sex lives and does that cause a conflict of interest between commercial profits and people’s private lives.

    I would also like to see some sort of study into why the British public are so fascinated by petty gossip of this nature.

    I wont deny that I find it utterly bemusing.

    Investigations that are in the public interest are good, but I am less sure about printing mere gossip that is of interest to the public, but harmful to the individual.

  2. James David Walker
    23/05/2011 at 8:38 am

    Hmm, well any attempt by the court/goverment to control information flow is likely to have the opposite effect – just look at the Great Wall of China.

    I’m not opposed to publicor private figures having a right to privacy as long as it does not involve a conflict of interest with their job/profession/public life. As even in the private sector, such cases can improve the impeteus for regulation – for example someone having an affair and misusing her companies finances in the process – which might highlight the need for tighter regulation.

    The problem I have is when the right to privacy is used to cover up stuff that certainly is in the public interest – for example the Transfigura oil report.

    The trouble is drafting a legal balance and finding someone to judge it carefully, because no matter what, people on both sides of the freedom/privacy argument will be looking for loop-holes to exploit.

  3. MilesJSD
    23/05/2011 at 9:00 am

    There are “moral-reasonings” and “formal-argumentations”, rather than mere “views”, and “twitters”.

    My current submissions to your own and to other noble peers’ serious Posts I think will give some of the ‘spot-on’ thinking, factuality, and life-experience called forin this matter of both “Privacy & Human-Survival” and “Democratic-Discussion & Multi-Way-Governance-Communication-Channelling”.

    Serious governance & human-lifestyling-survival should not be a matter for mere selfish-secrecies and tittle-tattle-twitterings.

    0900 JSDM

  4. 23/05/2011 at 11:12 am

    Privacy laws are only ever going to be for the privileged and wealthy: footballers, politicians, big businessmen. The papers are never going to publish stories about Mr Smith down the road having an affair as no-one cares. However, Mr Smith could have his reputation damaged by gossip among people in his street or colleagues, yet no-one would propose a law to prevent that. It’s questionable how much most “celebrities” are actually damaged by revelations in the media. In many cases, it simply raises their profile and actually enables them to profit – and remember that these are people who have largely chosen to be in the public eye. The people who might be damaged by the press are, for example, politicians who promote good morals or family values, but then are caught having an affair, and in that case it could be argued to be in the public interest to publish. So no, we don’t need a privacy law.

    And all that above is without considering the international dimension of the internet. As has been shown, privacy laws and injunctions are pointless when people can easily access material not covered by English law. If newspapers were completely banned from printing such stories, they would instead print stories containing all the details except the name in question, with strong hints that people should look on Twitter. Given that I would strongly oppose any censorship of the internet, I again conclude that privacy laws are pointless.

    Ultimately, if celebrities want to keep out of the newspapers, they should behave themselves. And if ordinary people object to the newspapers publishing such stories, they should stop buying the tabloids that carry them!

    • Gareth Howell
      25/05/2011 at 2:20 pm

      Mr Smith could have his reputation damaged by gossip among people in his street or colleagues, yet no-one would propose a law to prevent that.

      Mr Smith’s remedy may possibly be action for slander in the county court, a maximum of £5000.

      It would be no good asking the vicar to keep them out of church any more since nobody goes…. possibly becoz of the slander!

  5. Baroness Murphy
    Baroness Murphy
    23/05/2011 at 1:32 pm

    Very interesting interview this morning of Alex Salmond, (First Minister Scotland) and John Humphreys on Radio 4 ‘Today’. Mr Salmond pointed out that the Scottish newspaper’s decision to publish the name of the twittered footballer named in a injunction would be subject to Scottish law and our English Attorney General could not himself intervene north of the border. The injunctions granted by courts in England will not be respected by the internet or papers abroad, indeed have never been respected by media abroad and it seems to me if we have a privacy law it should be one which can be exercised in reality. So I’m with Jonathan on this one. On the whole I do not think we should protect people from the reporting of their private lives.

    IanVists, aren’t we all fascinated by the peccadilloes of the rich and famous, if only to congratulate ourselves that they like us have feet of clay? Footballers and starlets do not much interest me but I read every bit of the ‘respectable newspapers’ coverage of Mr Strauss-Kahn’s current predicament…and while its political ramifications are tragic, it was the sexual history I was really interested in.

    • 23/05/2011 at 5:43 pm

      To be honest, I really am not that interested.

      A couple of sentences in the diary section probably would capture my interest, but paragraph after paragraph of intimate details?

      I just find it boring.

      Then again, I am sure many people would find my desire to read paragraph after paragraph of world affairs equally boring.

      • MilesJSD
        24/05/2011 at 9:09 am

        My current resource-list has me wanting to ‘tack’ into this ‘wind’
        the task being to identify and separate-out the

        “wrong behaviours that feel right” (Franklin)

        “the right behaviours that feel wrong” (Miles-after-Franklin: some of us were told that masturbation is wrong therefore we grew-up with the habit of feeling it to be wrong – sort of “wrong at all times, not just in public”);

        and variations, upon that essentially generic human-enablement, to be responsible-to ourself and response-able to our Neighbours, Society, The Law, The Whole Darned World.

        0909 24 jsdm

  6. maude elwes
    23/05/2011 at 2:16 pm

    Governments in the past covered the events of philandering princes and kings, the way they did with Wallis Simpson. However, the US papers and elsewhere published the story from beginning to end and were not damned.

    Now to try and control the freedom to know from the Internet would produce an avalanche of ‘freedom writers’ who would take the entire law to the tip and toss it over the edge. And quite rightly. The UK is obsessed with secrecy and this privacy scam is simply a way to feign public interest when the reality is, it would be in the public interest to know exactly what is going on. Otherwise you get misinformation and the innocent suffer.

    As the Baroness above so rightly explains, those akin to the French suspected rapist, Strauss Khan, should have been exposed long before he was in a position to ‘allegedly’ harm this vulnerable woman in a hotel room in NYC. His reason, according to the NY Times was, ‘she had a beautiful a–e,’ and he felt he could, once again, get away with it, because, he misjudged, nobody would believe an immigrant from Africa.

    I digress, what a privacy law would end up doing, is, stopping us from knowing the truth about the poor judgment of those we have been offered as candidates for election, and more, those who take up posts in positions of power at corporations. And such a law would not stop at covering sexual exploitation or dalliances, it will cover far more serious issues than that. Look how the lunacy of Blair and Brown was covered by those who wanted to keep their jobs, even when they knew these people would be dangerous to our country’s future.

    A privacy law would bring more examples of David Kelly cover ups. Just use your imagination and there you have it. The powerful want this law to cover their own faults and failures. In order to remain in the seat of power they occupy. I think we have enough of that already.

    23/05/2011 at 5:32 pm

    The major problem is that the public, and now the press, do not understand the distinction between “in the public interest” and “of interest to the public”

    What puzzles me is
    (a) how we got where we are with an almost wholly judge-made law on super-injunctions;
    (b) how is an injunction effective if it is not served on anyone who edits and everyone who MIGHT publish a particular story, and if its very existence is not made known?

    How can I be in contempt of court if I write scurrilously but accurately that footballer X is having an affair with another woman?

    We need to ensure that balance is restored between damages for loss of reputation and damages for serious injury due to negligence or assault. It is absurd that the former can exceed the latter by many multiples.

    I don’t know what to do about Twitter, Facebook etc. It seems heavy-handed and cumbersome to seek from overseas owners all communication between the initial twitterer and the persons from who they obtained the information.

    • Gareth Howell
      24/05/2011 at 6:27 am

      balance is restored between damages for loss of reputation and damages for serious injury due to negligence or assault. It is absurd that the former can exceed the latter by many multiples.

      It may indeed be about the same. The loss incurred by losing good reputation may be equal to the loss caused by,say, a leg amputation, but not for the same reason at all.

      Missing a job application due to a bad press
      might cost five years’ wages, and loss of a leg, to some skilled workers, means no work ever again. That’s as close a comparison as you’ll get.

  8. ladytizzy
    23/05/2011 at 6:04 pm

    A key point with the current slew of injunctions is that they are sought by a type of person whose otherwise good public reputation is likely to be substantially damaged (as perceived by a judge) if reported by the media.

    I don’t know how true these stories are but it seems to me that an extraordinary amount of money would not be spent on suppressing a lie. Made-up stories appear regularly in the press and the public tend to ignore or treat them as the gossip they are; the very act of trying to suppress a story gives it the credence the press yearns for. Further, the thrill for the reader is with the hunt, not the kill.

    Rather than taking up the resources of Parliament in a pointless exercise, somebody should have a word with Justice Eady, and the agents of the famous should have a word with their clients.

  9. Gareth Howell
    23/05/2011 at 7:17 pm

    People have got nothing else to do except seek publicity; then when they get BAD publicity, it is “invasion of privacy”.

    It amazes me how people want to plaster all their family photos across the internet with gay abandon…. Twitter, Facebook, Grumbleweed the lot

    Do you want to be a friend?

    NO I DO NOT!

    • MilesJSD
      24/05/2011 at 8:57 am

      Reading you as saying
      “Do I want to be a ‘friend’ ?”

      Joining you (stipulatively) therein.

      0857 24 jsdm

  10. Gareth Howell
    25/05/2011 at 2:27 pm

    Nobody has mentioned “constructive” libel, which sounds as though it is constructive ie good, but in truth, it constructs a case against a person little by little so that he is not quite sure what to do every time one of the little bits is published.

    One of the newspapers was guilty of this by publishing a photo of the said individuals with an apparently unrelated story alongside.
    But anybody who gets to think about editorial policy and the placing of photos and stories realizes that it is “Constructive”; rather worse and more insidious than the ordinary…

    It is good to hear Dan from the Deer Park commenting above.

  11. danfilson
    27/05/2011 at 7:06 pm

    The ploy of juxtaposition of two or more apparently unconnected stories (often with carefully chosen photographs) leaving it to the newspaper reader to make the connection has been going on for many years. I believe it was used in the Profumo scandal of 1963 but may go back further (indeed it did occur in another form in 1936 when the Bishop of Bradford, I think it was, made a pointed sermon on the sanctity of marriage – naming no names – just before the Abdication crisis burst into the (British_public arena). I cannot think of any legal remedy in law to prevent this, but it requires some form of nod and wink to the readers to work or for the readers to be already aware of the practice.

    @Gareth – Yes, I do indeed follow rugby at Old Deer Park. No doubt you picked that up because I ‘plaster photos across the internet with gay abandon on Facebook’ for example. But I do so with my eyes open in full knowledge that what I put there is in the public domain to the extent that I so choose. That’s different from public intrusion into private lives.

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