Wikipedia founder opens new front in privacy battle

Kevin Rawlinson
Monday 23 May 2011 00:00
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Lawyers and celebrities seeking to prevent the world knowing their indiscretions have another hurdle in their path – Wikipedia – after its founder, Jimmy Wales, pledged to resist pressure to censor entries.

Referring to the case of the "family footballer" who has injuncted the media from revealing that he had an affair with the Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas – whose Wikipedia page now records this fact – Mr Wales said: "This only became a story because the footballer is pursuing legal action against Twitter. It started to become a big political and social issue. Once that happens it is a valid issue for Wikipedia. As an encyclopaedia, we try to document facts taken from reputable sources. We should not be stopped from recording facts.

"As the story continues, all of the injunctions that are in place and subject to public discussion become more likely to be covered by a source we would consider citing," he added. "When they are, we will consider the information for inclusion.

"If someone tried to force us to take the information down, we would definitely fight them. If we got a valid court order from a judge in the USA, there would be little we could do other than to comply. But I think that is very unlikely, because of the First Amendment."

Like Twitter, Wikipedia is based in San Francisco and does not have any physical presence in England, which it believes allows it to operate outside the legal jurisdiction of the English courts. Mr Wales said: "We probably wouldn't consider setting up [an office] in the UK due to potential problems with censorship."

Mr Wales criticised recent injunctions issued by the High Court in London. "It is a positive thing that we do not really have this type of order in the States," he said.

"In the UK, I think the system is going to have to change. People are going to realise that it is an infringement of the right to free speech. People are going to get sick of the rich and powerful being able to suppress things they do not want to get out."

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