Thursday, June 02, 2011

Twitter, privacy & the court system

This one passed me by. I record it now.

On 14 May in Privacy in a cyber-glasshouse world, Ken Parish looked at privacy issues. He concluded:

The effect of the ALRC (Australian Law Reform Commission) recommendation would be to institute for the first time in Australia a direct and immediate right to litigate through the courts for serious breaches of privacy.  As things currently stand, breaches of personal privacy are only directly actionable if they happen to involve the commission of some existing recognised civil cause of action e.g. infringement of intellectual property rights if someone’s photos or diaries are acquired and republished without their permission (as the St Kilda Schoolgirl is alleged to have done with photos of Nick Riewoldt); or if the acquisition of privacy-infringing material involves an actionable trespass.  You can mount a respectable argument that the current patchwork system provides sufficient protection of privacy and that any legislated general right to litigate for privacy infringement runs too much risk of recreating the old high stakes defamation litigation lottery under a new guise.

  Ten days later in Privacy in a cyber-glasshouse world – post-script, Ken said in part:

On the other hand, the “outing” of Ryan Giggs suggests that, whatever we might think as individuals about whether a right to privacy should exist, the borderless and almost universal nature of the Internet means that a court in any given country is unlikely to be able effectively or for very long to prevent disclosure of information about the identity of a person about whom salacious rumours are circulating.  In one sense I suppose that’s not very different from the social situation in western societies before the urbanisation of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Most people lived in villages and knew everyone else’s business anyway.  Rights to privacy in that sense are just an artefact of a short period of history when the practical anonymity conferred by large urban agglomerations of people had not yet been rendered ineffective by Wikileaks, Twitter, blogs and Facebook and the underlying Internet architecture that makes it almost impossible for the courts of a single country to keep information confidential.

Now Super injunctions, privacy and Twitter, Legal Eagle extends the discussion. She concluded:

Like Ken, I feel that we do not have a right to prurient information about celebrities: but whether the law can actually control the dissemination of such information in the present climate is quite another question.

This discussion actually bears upon other questions previously discussed on a variety of blogs: the way in which comments on social media can entangle people in a variety of potential legal actions; the responsibilities of providers such as Twitter for the comments made; the nature of cross-border issues and conflicts in a porous world; and the risk that remedies introduced for one purpose may lead to adverse results in other connections.

I am recording the discussion now because I think the issues are important. So I don't detract from Legal Eagle's latest post, feel free to comment there rather than here.        

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

Before reading this I'd already spent my two penneth over at skepticlawyer but I'd like to repeat here that while I could care less about the titivation, I think it becomes very important when courts even begin to contemplate imposing their rulings in this sort of matter upon members of parliament.

It's a bit of a long read, but the UK Hansard report I quoted there makes it quite clear that more is at stake than the latest footballer's latest peccadillo