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
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

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

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £100,000: SThree: If you would like to work fo...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission £100k +: SThree: Trainee Recru...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities