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The Author of a Blog v Times Newspapers Limited

16 June 2009, Queen’s Bench Division

In a case that is guaranteed to turbo-charged the google ranking of the blog in question (“Night Jack”), the claimant, a police officer who regularly 'blogged' (excuse the English) on political issues (including the criticism of the police force) was 'unmasked' by a journalist of the defendant through "a process of deduction and detective work".

The claimant's case is based on the traditional law of confidence and improper disclosure of private information established by recent cases such as Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] 2 AC 457 and McKennitt v Ash [2008] QB 73.

Our favourite judge, Eady J (cf. Mosley v News Group Newspapers Limite and Complaint of a struggling IT worker), ruled that the claimant would not be entitled to an injunction to restrain the defendant from disclosing the claimant's identity.

The claimant is not entitled to keep his identity as the author of the blog private and confidential because "blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity" and the identity of a blogger "does not have about it the necessary 'quality of confidence'" and there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of that information and there is no countervailing public interest justification for its publication.

The learned judge said

"[Counsel for the claimant] submitted that the thousands of regular bloggers who communicate nowadays via the Internet, under a cloak of anonymity, would be horrified to think that the law would do nothing to protect their anonymity if someone carried out the necessary detective work and sought to unmask them. That may be true. I suspect that some would be very concerned and others less so. Be that as it may, [Counsel for the claimant] needs to demonstrate that there would be a legally enforceable right to maintain anonymity, in the absence of a genuine breach of confidence, by suppressing the fruits of detective work such as that carried out by Mr Foster."

The judge ruled that counsel of the claimant failed to established the right and also refused to restrain the publication of the claimant's photograph, saying that he would "require more convincing evidence" that the publication would possibly "prejudice to undercover work".

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