Online bloggers cannot rely on their anonymity being protected, following a recent landmark ruling in the High Court.
‘Blog’ is the popular term derived from ‘web log’ and is a kind of online diary, often published under an assumed name. When the cult-status blogger known as Nightjack was identified by a Times journalist as Detective Constable Richard Horton, he applied for an injunction to prevent publication of his name.
After a temporary injunction had been granted, a full hearing was held, during which DC Horton argued that revealing his identity would render him liable to disciplinary action by his employers.
The Nightjack blog gave a behind-the-scenes view of modern policing, as well as criticising the legal system and many politicians. It also advised readers who found themselves the subject of a police investigation to complain about every officer and to show no respect for the legal system nor anyone working in it.
Last April, DC Horton was awarded the Orwell Prize for political writing. However, the judges were not then aware that details published in the Nightjack blog could be traced back to actual cases.
During the Court hearing, the judge stated that DC Horton had no reasonable expectation of anonymity because blogging is essentially a public, rather than a private, activity. The judge also stated that he did not accept the view that the Court had any duty to protect the anonymity of a serving police officer who was clearly in breach of police disciplinary rules.
“This ruling has profound implications for anyone currently engaged in creating or contributing to any kind of anonymous online publication,” says Alistair Pettersen. “Great care should be taken when publishing content that is controversial, might be seen to be in breach of an employment contract or might be libellous. As with all such matters, there is a clear case for seeking legal advice before proceeding.”