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.