Privacy:

Media freedoms in the balance

Cabinet to consider legislation including privacy law and regulation of social media

Ministers are to hold emergency talks over the celebrity super-injunction imbroglio that could pave the way to a privacy law and an attempt to regulate social networking sites.

As the names of public figures alleged to have taken out ultra-restrictive gagging orders continued to circulate freely on Twitter – and newspapers from Spain to Peru repeated their identities – Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the proliferation of information on the web had made a "mockery" of current privacy rules.

Mr Hunt raised for the first time the possibility of a new watchdog to ensure that social media such as Twitter and Facebook were subject to controls similar to those faced by the press and broadcasters, saying there may be a case for converging the regulation of traditional and new media.

The ability of a single Twitter user to circumvent the authority of the British courts in the internet era by posting the names of six celebrities with alleged links to super-injunctions this weekend was underlined by data showing that the site had its highest-ever number of UK visits on Monday.

Traffic to the site increased by 14 per cent, with an estimated two million people having now viewed the names of the public figures, who include a Premiership footballer and a celebrity chef. Searches for the term "superinjunction" have increased by 5,000 per cent in the past month.

The Culture Secretary revealed that the proliferation of super-injunctions – thought to number more than 30 orders barring the publication of details of the private lives of the rich and famous – has been raised at Cabinet and that he is to meet Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, to seek a solution to the "crazy" situation.

In a signal that the Government could consider fresh legislation, he repeated David Cameron's insistence that Parliament, rather than judges, should be responsible for ruling on the balance between privacy and freedom of expression.

Mr Hunt said: "We are in this crazy situation where information is available freely online which you aren't able to print in newspapers. We are in a situation where technology, and Twitter in particular, is making a mockery of the privacy laws we have and we do need to think about the regulatory environment we have. In the end, I do strongly believe it should be Parliament, not judges, that decides where we draw the line on our privacy law."

Alarm in Whitehall at the increased willingness of a small group of High Court judges, including media law specialist Mr Justice Eady, to impose gagging orders whose very existence cannot be disclosed has grown in the last 48 hours as the alleged identities of the super-injunction-protected celebrities circulate freely in cyberspace – while the mainstream media risks criminal sanction if it repeats the information.

The first sign of an attempt by lawyers to enforce the orders on the internet came yesterday, when a blogger whose site has published the names said he had been threatened with legal action to close it down. US websites have in the past used America's strong freedom of expression laws to repel any attempt to impose Britain's more restrictive rules.

Twitter, based in San Francisco, gave a strong hint that it would not concede easily to any attempt by a British court to force it to reveal the identity of the user behind the publication of the six names, including at least one – Jemima Khan – who has not taken out any gagging order. The website said it had a "mandate" to protect its users' freedom of expression and would seek to inform any user who was the subject of legal action to disclose their personal information.

But Mr Hunt said: "In the long term, there is a big question we have to look at which is whether the way we regulate different bits of media need to start to converge. At the moment, we have different regulatory regimes for different types of media. This has demonstrated that whatever the law tries to do on privacy, the internet is a very powerful force. I'm going to sit down with Ken Clarke to see what can be done. We agree that the current situation is not satisfactory."

Campaigners have warned of the dangers of any attempt to impose on journalists, or other bodies such as charities, privacy rules which could result in the subjects of an investigation being given a right to pre-publication disclosure. Trafigura, the oil trader, was heavily criticised when it obtained a super-injunction against The Guardian which interfered with parliamentary privilege.

Mr Hunt said: "One of the options is to have a privacy law that goes through Parliament and is properly debated. That will be a big parliamentary commitment. I think what we need to look at is whether that is the only solution.

"We need to get into the situation where regulation, legislation is up to speed with technology and we get the balance right between the rights of individuals and the rights that we all cherish of freedom of expression."

MPs are expected next month to hold their first full debate on super-injunctions and privacy. The Tory MP David Davis is to table a cross-party motion urging the Government to ensure the ultimate source of privacy laws is Britain rather than Europe.

Courts fill a vacuum

At the heart of the furore over the ability of a single Twitter user to flout the orders of the High Court lies the tension between judge-made privacy rules and the historic reluctance of Parliament to interfere with press freedom.

The desire of MPs and newspapers to avoid statutory regulation of the media has created a vacuum which courts have rushed to fill by means of injunctions and rulings which many are concerned have created a de facto (and deeply unsatisfactory) privacy law without the scrutiny of Parliament.

The appearance on social networking sites of the names of celebrities who allegedly obtained super-injunctions has made a nonsense of the efforts of three senior "media" judges at the Royal Courts of Justice to distinguish between what is in the public interest and what is of prurient interest to the public.

Innocent celebrities, ranging from Jemima Khan to Gabby Logan and Ewan McGregor, have all had to deny obtaining gagging orders after being wrongly associated with descriptions of public figures who have.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment