In the Twitter Era, Privacy Is Finished
Lawson, Dominic, The Independent (London, England)
As the late Frankie Howerd didn't quite say: Twitter ye not. Or at least, don't use the Twitter networking website to out sundry sportsmen and showbusiness types who have taken out so-called super- injunctions banning all public mention of their extramarital affairs. The person who posted these names on his Twitter account yesterday - whether inaccurately or not - is clearly in contempt of court, and therefore liable to a substantial fine.
If this newspaper had published a piece by a journalist naming those names, then it, rather than the writer, would have borne the brunt of any subsequent costs and proceedings. Not so the executives of Twitter, apparently. It warns anyone joining its online forum that "you may use the Services only in compliance with ... all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations". But you're on your own in the dock, delinquent Tweeters: the owners of the website go on to assert that "we may not monitor ... the Content posted via the Services and we cannot take responsibility for such Content". When Stanley Baldwin eighty years ago attacked the proprietors of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express for seeking "power without responsibility- the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages" he cannot have envisaged a day when a publisher would so explicitly broadcast its lack of responsibility for whatever appeared under its banner.
Naturally Twitter, and such other internet service providers as Google and Facebook, are not like newspapers in seeking directly to influence public opinion; more to the point, their whole business model rests on the fact that they don't control what their users post. Not only would this destroy the freedom and spontaneity their users relish; pre-moderation would require the employment of thousands of lawyers around the clock.
Still more to the point, the whole idea of super-injunctions designed to protect privacy is diametrically opposed to the ethos of the Facebook generation, who are infinitely less sympathetic than the average High Court judge to the notion that there are some limits to the amount of personal details that should be made publicly available. Those judges, it should be said, are not imposing such limits on publishers purely on a whim, or out of a class-based desire to protect "the establishment" from the exposure of its wrongdoing. It is not establishment figures who have been the most assiduous seekers of super-injunctions (so far as we know) but footballers, a group of people who might be very welcome at Chinawhite nightclub in Soho, but would never be admitted to White's Club in St James's.
No, the judges have just been trying to interpret the law as it stands; and since the Human Rights Act of 1998 incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law, that has included a legal right to privacy. Article 8 of the HRA declares that "Everybody has a right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." When arguing against a claim under Article 8, newspapers can claim their own rights under Article 10 of the Act which declares that "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information." Unfortunately for the media, however, the second paragraph of Article 10 stipulates that this right "carries with it duties and responsibilities ... as are necessary for the protection of the reputation or rights of others." I suspect it is this clause which has influenced judges to side more with those seeking super-injunctions (that is, injunctions which forbid even the mention of the fact that they exist) than with the sort of newspapers whose bread and butter has long been the exposure of the sexual indiscretions of those in the public eye. …