20 June 2009

Anonymous Blogging

All the discussion I've seen about the unmasking of Night Jack, the award-winning blogger who told us about life in the police, seems to stand on dangerously bad assumptions.

Many, like Hopi Sen, argue on the basis that anonymous blogging is in the public interest. Some, like the always reasonable chris dillow, dispute that claim. All of them scare me.

For what it's worth, I think that anonymous blogging is in the public interest. But that's an awfully flimsy ground on which to build the shocking restriction on freedom which Night Jack's victory would have produced.

The case wasn't about whether Night Jack could blog anonymously — whether he could blog without telling anyone his identity. What was at issue was whether The Times, having found out his identity, would be allowed to tell anybody. The only possible answer to that question is yes, of course. Isn't it enough that this country has the most oppressive libel laws in the world, without putting still more restrictions on what the press is allowed to tell us? Even the Max Moseley case based its verdict in favour of Moseley's privacy on the basis of a breach of his confidence — that the information came from somebody who had a duty to keep it private. Night Jack originally made a similar claim, but dropped it, claiming only that it was in the public interest that we not find out who he was.

I would like to see a right to blog anonymously, but all I would expect that to encompass is to be allowed to publish without having to identify myself, not to prevent anyone who happens to know who I am from telling anybody else. I want to be permitted to have a secret, but not assisted by the power of the law in keeping it a secret — that's my job.

The frightening assumption is that if anonymous blogging is in the public interest, anonymity should be protected with the power of the state, and if it is not, then it should be broken with the power of the state. Everything that is not compulsory is forbidden.

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