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Absolutely LQD: Outing Bloggers

by afew Fri Jun 19th, 2009 at 03:33:15 PM EST

NightJack case shatters web anonymity | Becky Hogge | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

Richard Horton, the Lancashire police detective who for 18 months blogged as NightJack, has had his identity revealed by the Times, after a high court ruling that an injunction against naming him should not stand.

According to the Times's report of the case, the fact that Horton had disclosed information on his blog that could have been linked to live police investigations meant it was in the public interest for his identity to be revealed. It's understood that Horton has received a written warning from Lancashire constabulary on this count.

Although some have blamed the Times for exposing this information themselves by making the link between NightJack and Lancashire police, we must assume that if they found out who authored NightJack, others could have too.

What's more interesting about the case is the arguments Horton used to defend himself. Horton did not wish to be outed for fear that his frank views would lead to reprimand from his superiors in the force. This was not a compelling argument for the judge, Mr Justice Eady, who went as far as to call it "unattractive". But should he have listened harder?

Although Horton understood that his activities were likely to get him grief from upstairs, the arguments made by his lawyers suggest the blogger did not see himself, nor wished to be seen, as a whistleblower. If he had, he might have been protected from retribution by his employers under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, and the actions of the Times could have been viewed as anti-competitive - punishing Horton because he had chosen to self-publish his revelations instead of seeking the protection of a newspaper by giving it the story.

As it is, many are still left wondering what public interest the Times is really serving by outing the blogger. According to the courts, the Times has been permitted to expose Horton because the public should be concerned by police officers who act outside guidelines set by their superiors. If the guidelines are about the protection of the public, this argument would be intuitive. But because this case is in part about an expression of views, the issue is far from clear.

The Times is the newspaper that did the job:

NightJack blogger Richard Horton gave tips on beating the police - Times Online

The policeman who failed to secure an injunction to prevent The Times revealing his identity had used his anonymous blog to offer advice on how to undermine police investigations as well as revealing confidential information about his cases.

Richard Horton, a detective constable with Lancashire Constabulary, began the NightJack blog in February last year.

At one stage he attracted nearly 500,000 readers a week with his pithy observations of life on the front line of policing. He was awarded an Orwell Prize for political writing in April this year.

The award judges were not aware that he was revealing confidential details about cases, some involving sex offences against children, that could be traced back to genuine prosecutions.

But others have their little point of view:

Terence Blacker: At least we've oopsification to cheer us up - Terence Blacker, Commentators - The Independent

When it's right for bloggers to be outed

Cries of anguish have greeted the outing of Night Jack, the police officer whose anonymous blog won this year's Orwell Prize. In the real world, it turns out, Night Jack is Detective Constable Richard Horton of Lancashire Constabulary. He no longer has an online presence.

Secrecy is said to be what makes blogs an essential contemporary medium; they can for example reveal graft and waste in public life, according to the somewhat self-important champions of the blogosphere. On occasions, that has been true, but anonymous online sneers, complaints and personal attacks contribute significantly to an ugly culture of mass bullying. It is surely a healthy development if the occasional bedroom blogger is forced to come out of hiding and face the world.

Yea, the professional journalist's revenge for an amateur daring to write something interesting for free. Funny how keen they are to preserve the anonymity of their sources, so long as it's them that gets to write it up.

However, there were concerns expressed that Nightjack did openly discuss cases that had yet to comne to trial, potentially causing conflicts in the process. I know of other cops and magistrates who have blogs who are very keen to insist that their blogging is based on a generalised reality rather than any specific case to avoid this very accusation..

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jun 19th, 2009 at 03:40:09 PM EST
Yes, that's probably true, that in the case of NightJack there was a problem with traceability of the cases.

But I thought it was interesting the innuendo in the Times about sex cases involving children, and Blacker is just lovely.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 19th, 2009 at 03:42:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Setting aside the merits of the Nightjack case, journalists enjoy outing bloggers simply because they know it pisses off bloggers.  It's like Republicans with liberals.  Doesn't matter even if they agree in principle on something, just that they piss off liberals.

I'm happy to not have to worry about this stuff, since I use my real name (and everyone I know already knows I say offensive and outrageous stuff), but I also have to laugh at journalists trying to establish their dominance with these silly outings.  They are, much more so than (say) the autoworkers or whatever other group you can think of, a bunch of lazy, low-value workers in a dying industry.  Journalism, even at "respectable" papers like the Indie, has descended into the Village Elders -- or, in the case of the British press, the Villagers' useful idiots -- listening to each other make Very Serious points.

And it's becoming sad.  Their knee-jerk reaction is to out and attempt to discredit.  We never have gotten beyond that Clinton-Gingrich Era psychosis.  Not that they can't still inflict a lot of damage, but the amount is decreasing daily.  They've lost touch with reality.

The reality is that time is not on their side, and every day just a few more people realize that they're a bunch of criminals -- or, at best, apologists for the fascist turn English-speaking societies have taken in recent decades.

And if "bullying" means these clowns never commit another Iraq, or that Iranians (whatever their opinions may be) get to try to make their votes count, or that sick people get health care, or whatever -- then bring on the "bullying," and let them write their pissy little columns.  Fuck these assholes.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Jun 19th, 2009 at 05:55:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is surely a healthy development if the occasional bedroom blogger is forced to come out of hiding and face the world.

Of course, bloggers hide in their bedrooms harming the world while Terence Blacker fights for freedom.


by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 19th, 2009 at 03:40:14 PM EST
Maybe if journalists are so sure that the importance of the blogosphere is exaggerated, they should stop wasting their time writing about bloggers, because that can't be helping, I wouldn't think.  It would free them up to write about things that really are important - like graft and waste in public life, or something.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Fri Jun 19th, 2009 at 04:04:19 PM EST
... the newspaper industry.

Though the best stuff I have read about the collapse of the newspaper industry has been on blogs.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 12:53:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They do whine about it. Rather a lot.

Oh, you said write about it. Nevermind then.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 07:09:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Times crime blog: Nightjack: mixed feelings over his exposure

We must confess to mixed feelings about the High Court ruling which allows the name of the award-winning blogger Nightjack to be published.
His revelation as Detective Constable Richard Horton is the "fruits of detective work" by our colleague Patrick Foster, The Times's media correspondent. A dogged piece of journalistic digging.
But what will this mean for all the other police bloggers out there whose jottings provide an invaluable insight into what rank-and-file coppers really think about policing modern-day Britain?

The Times and Foster are getting absolutely slated in the comments.

by Sassafras on Sat Jun 20th, 2009 at 05:25:48 AM EST

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