UK Court Says No Right To Being An Anonymous Blogger

from the wow dept

While there are certainly many problematic US laws, the fact that our court system recognizes and values the right to anonymous posting as a First Amendment issue is something that's quite wonderful. Tragically, very few other countries view things the same way. The UK has been especially bad when it comes to not protecting any rights to being anonymous, and the latest news is no exception. A UK judge has required the unveiling of an anonymous police blogger, claiming blogging is "essentially a public rather than a private activity," and thus, there is no right to anonymity.

In this particular case, the anonymous blogger was a working police officer, writing about daily experiences, and often taking strong opinions that could potentially get him in trouble. Now, some of us would think this is exactly why his anonymity should be protected, but the judge seemed to interpret it in the opposite way:
Mr Justice Eady said the blog contained opinions on a number of social and political issues relating to the police and the administration of justice.

He added Night Jack had expressed strong opinions on matters of political controversy and had also criticised a number of ministers.

The judge said the blogger risked disciplinary action if his employers found out one of its officers was communicating to the public in such a way....

Rejecting the argument that all the blogger's readers needed to know was that he was a serving police officer, the judge said that it was often useful, in assessing the value of an opinion or argument, to know its source.

"For so long as there is anonymity, it would obviously be difficult to make any such assessment.

"More generally, when making a judgment as to the value of comments made about police affairs by 'insiders', it may sometimes help to know how experienced or senior the commentator is."
This is troubling for any number of circumstances, especially in that it will certainly present quite a chill on people speaking out freely and anonymously on supposed problems within their workplaces. That seems a lot more dangerous and troubling than allowing this guy to speak anonymously, where readers were free to weigh the legitimacy of the information knowing the guy wasn't posting under his real name. Of course, it will come as no surprise that, now that the blogger has been identified, he's been disciplined by the police force. So much for encouraging any sort of public discussion.

Update: Lots of good points in the comments that weren't entirely clear in the original article. The specific details in this case were somewhat different, which changes the story significantly. The blogger in question had actually been identified by a reporter, and had asked for an injunction against that reporter revealing who they were. Under those circumstances, we actually have to agree that there's no right to demand anonymity if you've been outed through other means. There should be a right against the gov't forcing you out, but having individuals figure out who you are is an entirely different matter.
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Filed Under: anonymity, blogging, uk


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  1. icon
    Night Jack (profile), 17 Jun 2009 @ 6:52am

    Re:

    I agree! When anonymous posting is not guaranteed, people will censor themselves for fear of repercussions (as happened in this case). Free speech sometimes ''must'' be anonymous to protect the poster and allow things to be revealed that otherwise would not. This was a severe blow to free speech in the UK.

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