Privacy and injunctions

I do not particularly care about the infidelities and indiscretions of prominent people. Those are private matters. Some actions and behaviours may be morally wrong, which I do not approve, but they do not affect me or the wider public, and they are not illegal. Indeed, I believe that people should have a right to privacy, so long as the private actions do not do harm or negatively affect others. And it should be right that there is a mechanism to protect one’s private lives: even public people have private lives.

Naturally, the situation would be different, when someone’s actions have wider repercussions, and can be considered as in the public interest to expose them. Individuals and corporations should not be able to hide behind injunctions, super-injunctions and hyper-injunctions, if they are attempting to bury something that have done damage to others, or otherwise affect the lives of a large number of people. The Trafigura case is the best example that comes immediately to mind.

Politicians, having failed to legislate what constitutes public interest or private matters, are now using parliamentary privilege to break injunctions. Whether judges make law or not is a moot point. However, it’s probably true to say that judges can only ‘make’ law, when there is a room for ambiguity about what the law is, or ought to be. Drafting a legislation defining the boundaries is not an easy task, and may be the reason for the Parliament’s reluctance to act as legislators, and there will always be a room for interpretation. Some politicians are now playing with fire: they are stoking it by revealing the details of some injunctions. This is arbitrariness that is judicially unrestrained. Why reveal some but not the others? Law is made an ass, partly by the politicians.

At least MPs are elected, therefore they ought to enjoy privileges and powers to act without fear and favour in the interests of their constituents. The same could hardly be said of many Twitter users. They were probably putting themselves into trouble by revealing, or purporting to reveal, super-injunctions. If they were true, then they were in contempt of court, and if they were false, then they were making libellous statements. However, because of the sheer numbers, it is probably almost impossible to enforce any sanctions against them, unless only the original tweeters are pursued. By breaking the super-injunctions, and making the law unenforceable, the users of Twitter and social networking sites have made the law an ass.

If politicians and Twitter users can reveal the injunctions, because they don’t like some of them, then that’s an anarchic situation. Even if I agree that some super-injunctions are intolerable, tweeting and retweeting still bear the marks of mob justice. In some instances, injunctions are necessary, and it would be wrong for anyone to reveal the content. What if people’s lives are placed in danger because someone casually revealed something in a tweet? What if a fair trial becomes impossible because of a tweet? It is not a butterfly flapping its wings that can unleash a huge storm, but a little bird on the internet, that can create a lot of real problems for many people in the real world.

The whole saga makes me feel uneasy about the place of the internet, freedom of speech, privacy and the law. What about individual responsibilities, where means of mass communication have become available to so many people in the form of the internet, particularly Twitter? I certainly cannot claim that my judgement is clearer and better than others so that I should be able to make decision what is and what is not public interest. The reality is messy, and there will never be a perfect system that will please or be acceptable to everyone, however, there needs to be some proper, principled thinking into this matter, taking into consideration the changes in society and technology.