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FRIEND OR FOE
Is privacy the friend or foe of free speech? Celebrities’ use of injunctions and superinjunctions to stop the publication of stories about their private lives in the UK, and the perception that judges are inclined to weigh privacy in the balance at the expense of press freedom, continue to be a leading media story. In May, the former Formula One boss Max Mosley lost his attempt to create a European-wide law that would have made it mandatory for editors to give prior notification to the subjects of privacy stories, while Prime Minister David Cameron has voiced his concerns about judges’ so-called creation of a privacy law. Read Joshua Rozenberg’s interview with Mr Justice Eady for a rare response from a judge whose name has become most identified with privacy in the press [pp. 47–55].
The irony is that just as the right to privacy began to be viewed as a threat to media freedom, with the introduction of the Human Rights Act in 1998, it also became a necessity for free speech online. It is now one of the central issues of the digital communications age. Gus Hosein and Eric King, two leading campaigners, describe how the battle for privacy was lost in the 1990s, when governments and business were left to define the terms. The consequence is what we’re living with now: data breaches and data loss because of systems that were not built with protection of privacy as a fundamental concern. ‘If the US State Department can’t be bothered to adequately secure its own network of inter-embassy communications, what chance is there that Facebook and Google will take better care of your personal messaging and commonly used search terms?’
What’s the answer? Hosein and King think it’s time for a policy debate. Icelandic MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who experienced the insecurity of the modern age at first hand, when the US Department of Justice requested her private information from Twitter last year in the fallout from WikiLeaks, would like to see the same human rights applied online as offline: ‘… these two worlds have fused and it is no longer possible to define them as distinct any more’
Credit: Everett Collection/Rex Features