Blogger’s Identity Not Private Information

June 17th, 2009 by Anya Proops QC

Yesterday, the High Court handed down an important judgment on the application of the law of privacy to anonymous bloggers. The case involved a detective constable, Mr Horton, whose anonymous blog, ‘Night Jack’, gave a behind-the-scenes insight into modern policing. The prize-winning blog attracted a huge following. When a journalist at the time discovered Mr Horton’s identity by carrying out his own detective work, Mr Horton sought and was granted an injunction restraining the Times from revealing his identity. However, that injunction was lifted in a judgment handed down on 16 June 2009 by Eady J: The Author of a Blog v Times Newspapers Ltd [2009] EWHC 1358 (QB).

 

The central issue in the case was whether the developing law of privacy entitled Mr Horton to retain anonymity in respect of the blog. Eady J held that the injunction should be lifted because Mr Horton had failed to demonstrate that there was a legally enforceable right to maintain anonymity in respect of his identity. In reaching this conclusion, Eady J applied a two stage test: first, he considered whether Mr Horton had established that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of his blogging activities; second, he considered whether, if there was a reasonable expectation of privacy, that expectation was nonetheless overridden by the public interest in disclosure.  Eady J found that Mr Horton lost on the first limb of the test because the essentially public nature of his blogging activity meant that, judged objectively, Mr Horton could not reasonably expect that his identity would be treated as private information. Having decided the case against Mr Horton on this basis, Eady J nonetheless went on to consider the public interest arguments. With respect to those arguments, he held that there was in any event an overwhelming public interest in disclosure of the information. This was the case particularly given the public interest in revealing that the person making critical and politically controversial comments about the force through the blog was himself a particular serving police officer. In reaching these conclusions, Eady J rejected arguments to the effect that the injunction should be maintained given the risk that disclosure of his identity would increase the risk that Mr Horton would face disciplinary action.