Don’t Tell Daddy!

June 25, 2009

Having spent a few days in the remoter corners of England, where the Internet has scarcely penetrated and the mobile was constantly telling me ‘emergency calls only’, I missed the Digital Britain report (aah, the irony) and no doubt numerous other major developments. It was a shock to discover that there were such Internet-free zones – and quite a relief. But if I missed lots of developments, I did not miss the police detective seeking to preserve anonymity for his blog posts. (Incidentally, has the {i}EDS v Sky{/i} judgment emerged in my absence? – I am beginning to think it has disappeared into some Jarndyce-sized hole.)

The brief facts of the blogger case were that ‘Night Jack’ was a police detective who wrote a blog about his work and the problems on the streets. The Times were to publish a story revealing his real identity and the blogger sought an injunction to protect his privacy.

Night Jack failed in his bid – and I am not surprised. Indeed I was a little surprised that he was told it was worth a try, and I am irritated by the reaction of some bloggers who have seen it as an invasion of privacy.

The babysitting was my ‘Father’s Day treat’, enabling my son and daughter and their spouses to go to a Banksy exhibition and go out for dinner. I appreciate that any comment I am about to make on the naiveté of the police detective is rather undermined by the fact that I accepted such an arrangement as a ‘treat’. It rather stands normal practice on its head, but I can assure you that my son’s explanation for this gymnastic definition was more convincing than the submissions on behalf of the police detective before Mr Justice Eady.

Olympic sofa jumping was one feature of the babysitting and the response to an enquiry about the general parental view of that activity was met with a predictable response – basically ‘I am allowed, but don’t tell Daddy’. One does not have to be Poirot to detect a certain contradiction in this position. But at least my granddaughter did not suggest that she was going to publish a blog on sofa jumping activities while requiring me not to reveal who had been doing the actual jumping.

That contradictory stance was pretty much the position taken by Night Jack in the High Court. He believed that he was doing nothing wrong, but suspected that, as and when his employing authority discovered his activities, he might be subjected to disciplinary action or, at least, some kind of ‘pressure’ to limit the use of his freedom of expression. And, simply because he wished to remain anonymous, Night Jack claimed that the reporter who had established his identity was under a duty to keep that information confidential. Quite how that duty arose defeats me – and defeated the judge. As Mr Justice Eady said: ‘the information does not have about it the necessary “quality of confidence”… nor does it qualify as information in respect of which the Claimant has a reasonable expectation of privacy – essentially because blogging is a public activity. Furthermore, even if I were wrong about this, I consider that any such right of privacy on the Claimant’s part would be likely to be outweighed at trial by a countervailing public interest in revealing that a particular police officer has been making these communications.’

Hallelujah! I do sometimes despair of the claims made for privacy which undermine the essential concept and devalue the truly private. In a period where cries for transparency ring out from all quarters, what is it about blogging that could possible justify special treatment? In any event the cloak of anonymity was illusory. If you are going to blog, anonymity is not really an option – your identity will be established by anyone who really wants to know, as this case proves. Anonymity can only be preserved if your posts are bland enough not to spark an interest in establishing your identity. Don’t blog, and don’t sofa jump, if you don’t want Daddy to find out.