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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Display Account Manager

£25,000 to £35,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: The Company Our client are th...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director

£80 – 120K : Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director – Ad tech - £80 – 120K...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Senior Analyst – Global Sports Gaming Brand

40,000- 50,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: Senior Analyst – Global Sports Gam...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum