Thursday, 18 June 2009

Your Cover's Blown

S. Spielbergo e-mailed today to draw my attention to this case involving the outing of a blogger by the Times. Long story short, the blogger, Horton, wrote about the cases he had dealt with as a police officer, with names and locations changed, as well as laying into various public officials for what he saw as bullshit calls. The Times decided to out him because "there was a public interest in non-compliance by a police officer with his obligations under the statutory code governing police behaviour and also with general public law duty on police officers not to reveal information obtained in the course of a police investigation other than for performing his public duties." A judge then refused to grant an order to protect Horton's anonymity.

Frankly, I don't think the issue here is whether a blogger has a right to have their anonymity preserved. I and many others have discussed the reasons why blogger anonymity is a good thing; someone put it well following publius' outing by snippily pointing out ousting bloggers is a great way to ensure free speech is only enjoyed by those people whose opinions are entirely in line with their families and employers. In this case, though, we're not talking about opinions, we're talking about the information presented. Horton broke the rules of his occupation, and is arguing that the courts should prevent him from being punished for it. This, frankly, is bollocks. Whilst it's easy to think of situations in which a Deep Throat can be incredibly useful in uncovering corruption or illegal activity, they are still breaking the rules, and the argument that they have an a priori right to not have their identities revealed strikes me as exceptionally silly. Eady's choice wasn't between a man wanting to be anonymous and a paper wanting to name him, it was a) whether the benefit to the public of publishing the story outweighed the damage of the potential loss of anonymity suffered by those Horton had referred to, and b), assuming it wasn't, whether that gave the judge the legal right to block the Times publishing the story.

I don't know nearly enough about the law to discuss point b). Nor can I know what was involved in the weighing of point a), but the fact that Horton's outing has resulted in "a written warning" suggests that the potential knock-on effects of revealing his name are not too serious. That might in turn suggest the Times' story is rather weak tea and not worth damaging a man's career and (presumably) shutting down a blog with weekly traffic that can reach the millions, but whether or not the Times are twats is no more a matter for the courts than Ed Whelan's dickishness was.

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