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In the UK, a Few Tweets Restore Freedom of Speech

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the inconvenient-truths dept.

Censorship 216

Several readers wrote to us about the situation in the UK that saw the Guardian newspaper forbidden by a judge from reporting a question in UK parliament. The press's freedom to do so has been fought for since at least 1688 and fully acknowledged since the 19th century. At issue was a matter of public record — but the country's libel laws meant that the newspaper could not inform the public of what parliament was up to. The question concerned the oil trading company Trafigura, the toxic waste scandal they are involved in, and their generous use of libel lawyers to silence those who would report on the whole thing. After tweeters and bloggers shouted about Trafigura all over the Internet, the company's lawyers agreed to drop the gag request.

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Stephen Fry (4, Interesting)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742369)

I loved Stephen Fry's quote on this [bbc.co.uk]

"Can it be true? Carter-Ruck caves in! Hurrah! Trafigura will deny it had anything to do with Twitter, but we know don't we? We know! Yay!!!"

Re:Stephen Fry (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742389)

I loved Stephen Fry's quote on this [bbc.co.uk]

"Can it be true? Carter-Ruck caves in! Hurrah! Trafigura will deny it had anything to do with Twitter, but we know don't we? We know! Yay!!!"

And so the Brittish people went on living their zombie lives behind their iron curtain, with the feeling that this meaningless victory had changed their lives. In reality they were still being blindfolded, still monitored, still used as mere batteries to the machinery of the Brittish government and financial hierachy.

Re:Stephen Fry (5, Insightful)

dword (735428) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742421)

Agreed. Please let me rephrase: twitting and blogging are work-arounds, because the problem is still there. It wasn't fixed by the lawyers dropping the gag request; it will only be fixed as soon as the judge admits that the judgement was a mistake and explains why it was a mistake.

Re:Stephen Fry (4, Interesting)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742767)

That depends on what you regard as 'the problem'.

The 'super-injunction', as the press are calling it, was the injunction placed on the Guardian's publication of the Minton Report [wikileaks.org] , and the associated gag order that prevented the paper from revealing the existence of the injunction.

The judge didn't directly apply the gag order to the parliamentary question [parliament.uk] tabled by Paul Farrelly (which didn't exist at the time), and by all accounts the gag order did not cover parliamentary proceedings in any case because of qualified privilege. The only reason it became an issue was because the Guardian received a specific legal threat from law firm Carter-Ruck:

"The threatened publication would place the Guardian in contempt of court ... please confirm by immediate return that the publications threatened will not take place."

As we all know, statements made by lawyers are often merely the legal opinions of said lawyers.

The gag order is the sinister part of the whole thing (not the injunction, which is perfectly reasonable given judicial oversight), but I'd like to point out that these are not uniquely British as the GP seems to be alluding. I'm put in mind of the National Security Letters sent out by arms of the US Government, which placed similar gag orders, but unlike this situation did not have any judicial oversight.

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742789)

Had it been my newspaper, I would have published the news about the court case anyway. Government belongs to the People and all events that happen within that government, especially the Parliament, should be shared with them not hidden.

If the judge doesn't like it, he can just eat a bullet, and we the People will replace him with our own Judge.

Re:Stephen Fry (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742971)

> Government belongs to the People

Not in the UK it doesn't. Pretty much everything here "belongs" to the Queen - who is told what to do by the Government... well you get the idea

Re:Stephen Fry (3, Funny)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743017)

Government belongs to the People

That's what I said, until those funny men in the black uniforms removed me from the White House lawn for trespassing.

Re:Stephen Fry (3, Insightful)

andrew554 (1649757) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743039)

You’re saying that you’d publish anyway, and then shoot any judge who disagrees?!

Well, that’s one way of ensuring a speedy judicial process.

Re:Stephen Fry (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29743103)

Spoken like a true 13 year old.

Re:Stephen Fry (2, Informative)

machine321 (458769) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742799)

Minton Report [wikileaks.org]

It appears the URL has an unprintable character, so perhaps linking to the page [wikileaks.org] about the topic will work.

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742845)

Right enough, this is the correct link [wikileaks.org] . I had made a note to fix it before posting but subsequently forgot.

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743141)

It appears the URL has an unprintable character

You're saying that character was gagged?

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

mmkkbb (816035) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743225)

No, it was actually obscene.

Re:Stephen Fry (3, Insightful)

Shrike82 (1471633) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742423)

The only difference between Britain and the rest of the Western World is that our government just suck at hiding their Orwellian monitoring of the general population. You think other governments aren't monitoring, spying and tracking their own citizens? They've just learned from our mistakes about how to keep it quiet...

Re:Stephen Fry (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742579)

The only difference between Britain and the rest of the Western World is that our government just suck at hiding their Orwellian monitoring of the general population. You think other governments aren't monitoring, spying and tracking their own citizens? They've just learned from our mistakes about how to keep it quiet...

And your point is what? That since all citizens of the western world live as such zombies it's not worth changing anywhere? My guess is that you're not the guy who offers solutions, you're the guy who tries to make problems look smaller by pointing at others. You may be right, but you're not helping anybody, rather the opposite -- providing people with the thought of that it's a pointless battle since everybody experiences the same situation. So my question is then, what are your motives? To have a good life, or to have a shitty life as long as everybody else also does?

Re:Stephen Fry (3, Insightful)

x2A (858210) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742777)

That didn't look like his point to me at all...

"My guess is that you're not the guy who offers solutions"

*coughs* projecting!!!!!!

Re:Stephen Fry (3, Insightful)

polar red (215081) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742621)

You think other governments and corporations aren't monitoring, spying and tracking all citizens/serfs/customers?

there, fixed that for ya.

Re:Stephen Fry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742653)

what's the difference?

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

carvalhao (774969) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742795)

I live in Portugal and the government does not keep such a stronghold on it's citizens. I know both a lot of journalists and quite a few SIS (the local spooks) and no such thing happens. In fact, at the smallest try of interference from the government you usually get a Streisand effect and is promptly newscasted all over the place.

Re:Stephen Fry (2, Interesting)

wtfamidoinghere (1391517) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742921)

Dear Portuguese fellow countryman, our government in no better then others. In fact, I'd say it's probably one of the more corrupt govs in the so-called "Western World". I agree on the Streisand effect, but it simply has no consequences ... I'd go as far as to say it's a void effect ... you get all the shouting and media frenzy, but it's all quickly forgotten and swept under the rug (normally by said media).

And you'd have to agree ... it's a damn selective effect ... and the ones who select the causes normally are the ones that benefit most of it.

Let me just remind you about our great ID Card scheme, about our chipped car tags, about all the security hype...

We have almost no real free media here! Remember the suspicious cancelling of Friday Special News on Channel 4?

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

Pax681 (1002592) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743055)

might i point out that there is NO SUCH THING AS BRITISH LAW!

really.... no such thing..... you have English law, applicable to England and Wales.... and Scots law , applicable to Scotland
and then we have Northern Irish Law
the most distinct and unique legal system is Scots Law
this notion of "British law" is a fallacy folks.... IS JUST ISN'T SO AND THANKFULLY THIS IS THE CASE!

Re:Stephen Fry (0)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742513)

The UK is actually starting to resemble late-communist Central Europe. You can have all the freedom you want, if you make sure you're surrounded with people who don't care about the rules. And most people are starting to not care.

Re:Stephen Fry (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742709)

The UK is actually starting to resemble late-communist Central Europe. You can have all the freedom you want, if you make sure you're surrounded with people who don't care about the rules. And most people are starting to not care.

I moved from Hungary, never the most oppressive state in the Eastern Bloc, to the UK in 1998. I don't have words for how delusional your suggestion is. The threat of legal action does have a chilling effect on freedom of speech, but not quite the chilling effect of being beaten senseless or a bullet to the back of the head.

Re:Stephen Fry (3, Funny)

x2A (858210) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742797)

FGS what's wrong with you, this is slashdot, a place for wild comparisons by people who know no better, kindly check in your "real experience" at the door, you can collect it on your way out.

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742903)

Funny, I moved there from Hungary too. Except I wasn't talking about the 60's.

Re:Stephen Fry (2, Insightful)

silanea (1241518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743213)

The suggestion is not at all delusional. Limitations of personal freedom and liberty move on a scale between weak and small social dictates - you should not say x because it is inappropriate, you should not do y because it is not looked upon kindly -, more or less well founded legal threats - you must not say x because it is forbidden, you must not do y because you go to jail for it - and outright jeopardy of your own life and livelihood - you cannot say x because someone will send you to the hospital for doing this, you cannot do y because someone will shoot you for it.

The severity of the chilling effect such limitations have may vary by degree, but it is measured on the same scale. The former Soviet Bloc escalated the suppression of its subjects, but for quite some time now our Western countries have been steadily marching down the very same path.

When you cannot publish information about a corporate scandal that clearly is of interest to the general public for fear of legal repercussion, something is horribly wrong.

Re:Stephen Fry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742727)

Eastern europe?

Or did you mean the american sector in berlin?

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

chapman (61221) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742889)

Complete nonsense. UK citizens enjoy personal freedoms and benefits that many others only dream about. I'm bemused by the fact that the better off we are, the more people complain about it.

So, apart from an independent judiciary, a police force that serves citizens rather than the state, a voluntary armed service, the personal freedom to learn, teach, travel, work, employ, practice any or no religion, support your favourite political cause, stand for political office and even vote for a different government every few years... what *has* the UK done for us?

The weather's not great, but hey, you can't have everything.

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

arethuza (737069) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742959)

Indeed, I've even had the chance to vote for a real Socialist party (OK it was a protest vote and I'm not going to do it again).

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743027)

I like the weather here, you insensitive clod!

Re:Stephen Fry (1)

ratinox (582104) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742545)

Fortunately, though, we are still able to spell "British" correctly...

Simon Singh (3, Insightful)

Bifurcati (699683) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742383)

Now if Simon Singh could just win his case [senseaboutscience.org.uk] , then maybe the world will move one step closer to free and open speech. Security through obscurity never helped anyone in any context (*), and the more knowledge one has the better decisions one can make.

(*) Counterexamples welcome...

Re:Simon Singh (2, Insightful)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742401)

it's not that it doesn't helped anyone in any context, there's plenty of situations where obscurity was much better than publicity (any military example comes to mind), the problem is that obscurity simply is not actually security at all.

Obscurity is obscurity, and while you sometimes want obscurity, it's very unhealthy to confuse obscurity with security in an overall sense.

Re:Simon Singh (2, Informative)

lordandmaker (960504) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742507)

Security through obscurity never helped anyone in any context

Security through obscurity is nearly universally useful (provided you don't mind the obscurity). It's not something to entirely rely on, no, but it's difficult to argue that it doesn't help.

It's easy to argue against that! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742729)

> Security through obscurity is nearly universally useful (provided you don't mind the obscurity). It's not something to entirely rely on, no, but it's difficult to argue that it doesn't help.

It's difficult? No, it's not difficult to argue that it doesn't help!

That's not how "security through obscurity" works, for starters, and the security community has a long history of both seeing the screwups caused by obscurity (and the improvements that came once people started accepting openness). A layer of obscurity over a secure system can seem good, but is unnecessary (because you have a secure system already). What actually happens is that it layers over a very insecure system. This is why security through obscurity is bad. That said, please note that security schemes often designate "secrets" (e.g. passwords) that must remain as such. This doesn't qualify as "obscurity" for the purpose of what people are against when they say that "security through obscurity" is bad.

There's a saying in security that anyone can design a "secure" system that they themselves cannot find a way to break. The problem is that other people can usually break it. This is where the obscurity comes in: it prevents people from seeing very obvious flaws. You fell into a similar trap when you said it's "difficult to argue" that the obscurity doesn't help. I had no trouble arguing against it.

They don't hold contests to decide the government encryption standards for no reason, you know. The hold them because if they only let government spooks look at their schemes, they would've missed lots of subtle flaws.

Re:It's easy to argue against that! (2, Insightful)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743119)

A layer of obscurity over a secure system can seem good, but is unnecessary (because you have a secure system already).

That is false. No system is 100% secure, all that can be expected is to delay a successful attack. The more secure, the longer the delay.

Understood from that context, an additional layer of obscurity does increase security. The question really boils down to the cost-effectiveness of that layer - if maintaining that layer creates excessive overhead, then it may be a net loss in the cost/benefit trade-off column. But if cost is not part of the evaluation - and the prior poster never mentioned it - then it is true to say that obscurity always increases security.

Re:It's easy to argue against that! (1)

plover (150551) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743257)

No, obscurity does help, but for a different reason. It reduces the overall impact of the opportunistic hackers. It's long, but here's the reason why:

1. No security system is perfect.
2. All security systems work by delaying the success of the attack long enough so the attacker gives up.
3. The internet is very, very big, and full of both attackers and targets.
4. A statistically significant number of people do as little as possible to accomplish a task. This includes time and effort spent securing systems.
5. From 4, that means many people accept default values when they don't matter.
6. Obscurity can be accomplished simply by changing default values to non-expected values (port numbers, version identification strings, etc.)
7. Many attackers are opportunistic, and will attack whatever systems they can identify that are easy to attack.
8. Opportunistic attackers use volume attack techniques. Zombie armies attacking default ports, or Google searches for known version identification strings or other artifacts that identify hackable systems, for example.
9. By hiding/obscuring any component, the opportunistic attackers may not identify or otherwise may skip attacking your system.
10. Systems change over time. What was secure yesterday may no longer be secure today. (Adding support for JavaScript to browsers created the possibility of cross-site scripting attacks, for example.)
11. Once an attack is recognized, a patch is generally created and updates made available.
12. If you were not attacked in the first wave of zombie attacks, you can possibly install the update before your system is recognized for what it is and compromised by someone.

So, by increasing only obscurity but not security, the amount of crap a victim has to deal with is cut by a large factor. It may delay being a member of the First Victim's Club long enough that you never become a victim. Sure, you do so at the expense of other systems on the internet, but they're not your responsibility, are they?

Opportunistic hackers represent a very large threat. Cleaning up behind them is very expensive. Changing a default value is cheap. By spending very little money, you dodge a very big bullet. Obscurity is indeed effective against opportunistic attackers.

But it is not effective against a targeted attacker. If someone wants to specifically violate your security for some reason, they are going to employ a different mode of attack. Non-standard defaults are meaningless, because you're not trying to hide -- they've already found you. Real security is still required.

Re:Simon Singh (2, Insightful)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742639)

Security through obscurity never helped anyone in any context

Security through obscurity is a warning, not a mantra.

Re:Simon Singh (5, Insightful)

EasyTarget (43516) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742659)

Here's a counterexample.. two in fact.

20 years ago my motobike was not stolen, even after the thieves had laboriously sliced a chain and wired the ignition. Why? Because the engine would cut out within 10 seconds of starting, eventually they gave up and left. The engine cutting out was down to a obscure little security system I designed, built and fitted myself, killed the ignition for 2 seconds out of every 10 unless a magnet was held in the correct place as the ignition was turned on. The thieves probably never even suspected it was deliberate, they probably thought the bike was a lemon.. which is arguably true ;-)

My server, which has no open public SSH port.. Unless you know exactly where to look and when.

Both of these work because they are genuinely obscure single implementations. In order to break them the attacker would need to know that it exists, and then spend time analysing the unit to break it. Even if they know there is a hidden layer of defence, is the payout (a crummy motorcycle, control of my printer and access to my photos and porn collection) worth their time to break it?

The sort of Security through Obscurity you describe fails because it is identically implemented in millions of devices, ie. It is not really Obscure, it's just a secret. And if you break it in one place you break it in all places. The payout for finding and breaking it is much, much, greater.

Re:Simon Singh (3, Insightful)

arethuza (737069) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742989)

Stop being sensible about this kind of thing, it upsets a lot of the "Security Experts" out there.

Re:Simon Singh (1)

Inda (580031) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742997)

I like your motorbike story. I too didn't have my motorbike stolen 20 years ago.

They broke the chain and padlock.

They rammed a screwdriver in the ignition and turned on the electrics.

I had no kickstart so the only way to fire the engine was to bump it.

I had an FS1E and those in the know would know that the gearbox is upsidedown. The twats were trying to bump it in top (4th) gear and it wouldn't start. They didn't even set fire to it, which is still surprising to this day.

I miss that bike. 70mph down hill on a 50cc (bored out to 65cc - shhhhh) bike made me king of all school bikers :)

Re:Simon Singh (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29743277)

Your "security" merely stopped passing joy riders from taking a junk bike for fun. If these were real bike thieves (assuming your bike was worth something), your machine would have been lifted into a van in a matter of seconds, and the van would be gone. Your main security in your example was not having a decent bike to start with.

Re:Simon Singh (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743297)

Security through obscurity does work until it is no longer obscure .... ....If you still had your bike, I could now steal it, If I could be bothered I could break into your machine .... now I know

--
The plural of box is boxen....

Re:Simon Singh (1)

Bifurcati (699683) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743351)

I happily stand corrected! Cool examples.

That said, in the bigger picture, I think better decisions can usually be made with more information. That might include by terrorists, however, so whether or not those "better" decisions are in your interest is debatable, but the less restrictions on open speech the better, in general. IMHO!

Worrying precedent (3, Insightful)

abigsmurf (919188) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742435)

It's great when this happens to a big business... But what about when it happens to individuals and victims?

To use an example. Imagine a celebrity's 13 year old daughter gets raped and there's a court order banning the publication of any information that can identify her. Will she have to deal with so many blogs reporting on it that the court order becomes pointless? Will she then have to live with horrific details of her attack being public knowledge?

With the Rihanna leaked pictures showing the results of her attack, it's become pretty clear to me that a good portion of the blogging community are devoid of tact and decency. It's only a matter of time before something of the nature of what I described happening.

Re:Worrying precedent (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742521)

This injunction was exceptional as it didn't cover a private individual or even a commercial interest. It covered what had been said as a matter of record in the House of Commons. It was almost certainly invalid, as there are specific laws allowing the reporting of what is said in Parliament.

It is common (and indeed routine) for courts to issue injunctions and protections against the reporting of names in cases such as child abuse or rape, as you mentioned above.

Re:Worrying precedent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742705)

That's incorrect.

This is what happens when people rely on blogs for facts I guess.

It did not cover "what had been said as a matter of record in the House of Commons".

It was an injunction to prevent the Guardian (and likely other newspapers) from reporting on the fact that a Parliamentary Question was planned for later this week.

How easily "what might happen" becomes "what has happened" when your analysis comes in dribbles of 140 bytes.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

tangent3 (449222) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742529)

We're talking about parliament here, not a court case. It's accepted that some court cases can be sealed by court order, but parliament?

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

Sparx139 (1460489) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742551)

Although, the Rihanna leaked photograph may have helped sentencing. Would Chris Brown have recieved the same sentence if the photo hadn't been leaked?
I understand where your coming from, but too often domestic abuse is everyone's "dirty little secret". And, when you combine that with the number of celebrities that get away with a slap on the wrist...

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742567)

in my opnion, privacy has become an empty word. It's the result of all-pervasive electronics/communication devices. It's rather pointless trying to turn back the clock methinks. the genie is out of the bottle, information wants to be free, that sort of thing.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742793)

the genie is out of the bottle, information wants to be free, that sort of thing.

Do you got to rub it the right way
if you wanna be with it?

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

wickerprints (1094741) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742571)

The distinction is easy to discern. One deals with a matter of public welfare. The other does not.

To be more precise, when any legal entity engages in activities or behaviors that are damaging or potentially damaging to members of the public, and such actions or the judgment demonstrated by them continue to pose a threat to the welfare of others, then there exists a right to inform and be informed. Those that may be harmed by the acts of another have a right to know of the danger. The revelation of salacious details regarding an individual's affairs purely on the basis of their celebrity clearly does not withstand this criterion, and therefore the right to privacy supersedes any privilege of the public interest to be informed of such matters.

However, note that the application of this particular standard is not based on an individual's celebrity--for example, Mel Gibson caught driving drunk may be reportable, because his actions pose a threat to other drivers. Reporting Chris Brown as having assaulted Rihanna may be acceptable. But posting pictures of the victim's abuse is not, because the release of that information is not pertinent to preventing others from coming to harm.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

N1AK (864906) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742673)

You missed his point. He wasn't questioning the use of gagging orders, he was pointing out the issue with the 'blogosphere' etc being used to subvert them. We celebrate the justice of the internet when it is used to leak information that shouldn't be hidden, but it can just as easily be used to spread information that we may wish was kept private.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

wickerprints (1094741) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742761)

Indeed...I agree with that sentiment. I seem to recall a great deal of controversy over "vigilante justice" in the case of a young Korean woman who was photographed for failing to clean up after her dog on the subway, and subsequently humiliated.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742827)

The likelihood of the blogosphere subverting an individual court case (which can be closed to the general public) is much lower than the likelihood of subverting the machinations of parliament (which most certainly are NOT closed to the general public).

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742585)

Face facts here, bud. The publication of the pictures of Rihanna's assault were nothing to do with the lack of tact of the blogging community, but more so that the public seems to see that every single facet of celebrity life is public domain.

At least the paparazzi didn't get any money out of it.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

abigsmurf (919188) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742665)

There's a good quote by someone whose name I can never remember but it goes like this: "That which is of interest to the public may not always be of public interest".

Most people would like to see pics of random hot people in the shower. Despite this demand, it would be an incredibly poor excuse if this was used to justify a photographer putting hidden cameras in people's showers.

The popularity of porn and the phenomenon of rubbernecking show that people generally have a pretty depraved curiosity. It's up to media companies to ensure that if they cater to these aspects, they do it responsibly (in consensual adult films and horror movies in that context).

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743153)

Indeed, but bloggers are not so constrained.

Ah, I see what you did there...

Re:Worrying precedent (4, Insightful)

Hozza (1073224) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742607)

This case is (fortunately) nothing like the examples you give.

This was about a question in Parliament. i.e. Statements publicly made, by public representatives in a place where freedom of speech is protected to the highest extent in the UK. The statements were available to anyone who looked at the records.

The idiot lawyers then tried to prevent a newspaper from reprinting those statements, bringing into doubt the entire system of freedom of speech and press in the UK. (note to non-UK readers, there is no UK constitution to protect free speech).

The bloggers (and more importantly, pretty much every other part of the UK media) were entirely right to repeatedly report on the gross misuse of UK libel law.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

mpe (36238) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742687)

The idiot lawyers then tried to prevent a newspaper from reprinting those statements, bringing into doubt the entire system of freedom of speech and press in the UK.

In the process ignoring the well known that that trying to ban something is a very good way to ensure that lots of people know about it. As well as drawing attention to whoever wanted the information banned.
Right now probably the last thing Trafigura wants would be more negative publicity. They've not so much "shot themselves in the foot" as "emptied a whole magazine into each foot" :)

Note on right to freedom of speech (2, Informative)

twoshortplanks (124523) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742723)

UK Citizens have protection under the European Convention on Human Rights [wikipedia.org] , which was to some extent enshrined directly into UK law with the Human Rights Act [opsi.gov.uk] . This offers freedom of expression as Article 10 [wikipedia.org] , but this does allow the state to restrict speech "for the protection of the reputation or rights of others".

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

tomtomtom (580791) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742831)

Hmmm... I don't think it can be that clear-cut though. While I'm not saying that's what happened in this case, clearly it is possible for an MP to use parliamentary absolute privilege to make an end-run around injunctions forbidding reporting - since the newspapers are then free to repeat what an MP says in parliament under the doctrine of qualified privilege. This is, for example, what David Davis did, quite openly, earlier this year when he spoke about the case of Rangzieb Ahmed.

So I can see why it might make sense to restrict the reporting of that proceeding in parliament - and as far as my understanding goes, English libel law also accepts this as those reporting on proceedings of parliament are only given the protection of "qualified privilege", not "absolute privilege" - effectively my understanding is that they must report these more sensitive parliamentary proceedings in a manner which does not add their own "spin" to the story but simply reports the facts of what was said.

The fundamental issue is that the concept of injunctions prohibiting publication are at great odds with freedom of speech in the first place, regardless of the involvement of Parliament in this case. I think there's a strong case to be made that the use of injunctions (rather than simply allowing the victim to sue for damages after publication) should be restricted only to cases where there would otherwise be the most severe and irreparable harm. In my mind, this should mean serious (false) allegations against individuals such as falsely claiming that they are a convicted child abuser. Allegations of corporate wrongdoing should almost never qualify.

Re:Worrying precedent (0)

machine321 (458769) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742833)

The idiot judge then tried to prevent a newspaper from reprinting those statements

Fixed that for you.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

Kryis (947024) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742681)

There is a bit of a difference between the scenario you describe and what happened here. The issue here was that a question was published in a public document, detailing a question asked by an MP which was due to be answered later this week by someone else in Parliament. The Guardian obviously wanted to report on this question, and the company involved didn't want the bad press and so tried to get a court order against the newspaper highlighting the question on the grounds that it would be libellous. The information is (by law) freely available to the public, and noone was prevented from looking at the question, the newspaper just wasn't allowed to draw attention to it. There is no expectation of privacy in Parliament - what goes on is *expected* to be public, which is different from court cases involving children, where they often can't (and don't) name the children involved.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

MozzleyOne (1431919) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742763)

Will she then have to live with horrific details of her attack being public knowledge?

Basically .. yes. The necessity for court proceedings means too many people know, and if it happened to a public figure it is too profitable for media outlets to ignore. Sad reality of the world we live in.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

machine321 (458769) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742817)

With the Rihanna leaked pictures showing the results of her attack, it's become pretty clear to me that a good portion of the blogging community are devoid of tact and decency. It's only a matter of time before something of the nature of what I described happening.

You searched for and found them? You read the kind of newspapers/magazines/websites that reproduced the pictures? You seem to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742825)

The problem is not the injunction against the Guardian that prevented the Minton report from being published. The problem is that the injunction also prevented the newspaper from revealing that an injunction had been served at all.. This is why, according to the opinion of Trafigura's lawyers, the Guardian could not report on this particular parliamentary question - because it revealed the fact that an injunction was in place.

Injunctions are a necessary part of the legal system, as you've pointed out. The prevention of reporting that an injunction is in place is not.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

vague disclaimer (861154) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742935)

To use an example. Imagine a celebrity's 13 year old daughter gets raped and there's a court order banning the publication of any information that can identify her.

There is already a law (not a court order, statute law) banning the identification of rape victims in the UK. Of course you can't stop every sicko doing what they can to get around that.

But the issue here was a law firm exploiting a very narrow legal loophole to circumvent parliamentary privilege and suppress publication. That Carter Fuck created a PR catastrophe in doing so will hopefully be a salutary lesson (ha!). A similar shitstorm could be brought onto the head of anyone who exposed a rape victim. It is simply a question of if enough people care.

Re:Worrying precedent (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742961)

Celebrities? Everything that is related to "celebrities" is a bastard child of the society based on so called "pursuit of happiness", with the plebs that does not give anything to the society, only demands of "panem et circenses".

Look in the root. You want freedoms? Eat them with a full spoon now.

One down, an unknown number to go. (5, Interesting)

netpixie (155816) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742439)

According to the last issue of Private Eye there are quite a few of these super-injunctions currently being enforced (i.e. injunctions that not only stop you from saying something, but stop you from telling anyone that you've been injuncted).

I'd like a few more of them to be twittered, at least so we know that something's being hidden, even if we don't know what it is.

(and I know injuncted isn't the right word, but I don't know what is)

Re:One down, an unknown number to go. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742627)

"enjoined"

Re:One down, an unknown number to go. (4, Informative)

Bazzargh (39195) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742769)

The PQ about Trafigura everyone was twittering was Q61, Q62 was in fact the one mentioned in that Private Eye editorial:
Q62: Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, if he will (a) collect and (b) publish statistics on the number of non-reportable injunctions issued by the High Court in each of the last five years.

With a bit of luck tomorrow we will hear how many of these things have been issued (or at least, get told when we will be told)

Re:One down, an unknown number to go. (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742839)

Reminds me of "The Truth" (Pratchett) which I paraphrase here because I don't have the book to hand:

de Worde: "Can I say that you asked me not to say anything about $SUBJECT?"

"No!"

de Worde: "OK, I'll say that when I asked you if I could say anything about about your banning me from discussing $SUBJECT you said No..."

Massive headline FAIL (5, Informative)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742467)

Twitter had nothing to do with this. Yes there was a lot of inconsequential twittering about this, but the reason the injunction was lifted was that reputable newspapers outside the UK were carrying the story. Since they were immune from the injunction - and their content was available in Britain, the injunction became pointless and (just like with the Spycatcher book, which was banned in Britain, but freely available in other english-speaking countries, or terrorist plots which were censored in the UK but freely reported by the NYT) were not serving the purpose of stopping british peopole from finding out the truth.

British libel laws are a travesty. To the point where half a dozen US states, including California, have had to pass laws preventing UK libel judgements from inhibiting free speech. There is even a case at present where a Ukranian website is defending statements it made in Ukranian regarding a Ukranian company, but in a British court - as the penalties handed down in British courts are so heavy, and litigation costs so high, that it's financial ruin for a defendant to attempt to defend themselves, even if they are successful.

So much for free speech in Britain.

Re:Massive headline FAIL (2, Informative)

Elky Elk (1179921) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742479)

British =! English

Re:Massive headline FAIL (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742537)

British =! English

At least get your pseudo-code syntax right. Jeez.

Re:Massive headline FAIL (3, Informative)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742599)

There is even a case at present where a Ukranian website is defending statements it made in Ukranian regarding a Ukranian company, but in a British court...

Where were the comments posted? This isn't clear from your post.

If they were posted on an English website, hosted in England, how is this any different than the US wanting to charge Gary McKinnon in a US court? Seems like we're both as bad as each other...

Re:Massive headline FAIL (1, Informative)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742877)

Not to mention the DHS tactics of forcing an isp to take down a website then making it plain that the isp cannot reveal the reason for doing so to anybody on pain of $nasty_things. But you lot keep banging on about how bad the UK is ...

Re:Massive headline FAIL (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742619)

Actually, an injuction against one paper is as good as an injuction against all in the UK. From http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8304908.stm:

"No injunction was served on the BBC, but ever since the Spycatcher case in the 1980s news organisations which knowingly breach an injunction served on others are in contempt of court, so the corporation too felt bound by the Guardian injunction."

Re:Massive headline FAIL (2, Insightful)

owlnation (858981) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742757)

That's absolutely right. Twitter had nothing of consequence to do this whatsoever. This article is just Twitter's insidious marketing dept trying to cash in (again).

The Guardian newspaper actually tried to create the Streisand Effect here. They got a tame MP to table a question in Parliament to expose what was happening. They effectively challenged the libel lawyers to try and stop the reporting of it. And of course the lawyers fell for it. Pretty neat stitch up.

The Guardian then leaked it to the international press and prominent bloggers -- such as Guido Fawkes. Sure people reported it on Twitter too, especially Stephen Fry who is a sock puppet for the Guardian and the left wing, but it wasn't the tweets that changed anything, it was the International press and the reaction in Parliament.

Re:Massive headline FAIL (2, Interesting)

Bazzargh (39195) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742855)

The Guardian then leaked it to the international press and prominent bloggers -- such as Guido Fawkes. Sure people reported it on Twitter too, especially Stephen Fry who is a sock puppet for the Guardian and the left wing, but it wasn't the tweets that changed anything, it was the International press and the reaction in Parliament.

How's your tin foil hat looking? There was absolutely no need for them to leak anything. The list of questions was already published, the Guardian just asked Carter-Ruck if they could report that and of course C-R said no (since it was covered by the previous injunction). The Guardian reported this on their website (and I'd agree with you here that their intent was to cause outrage); from there it was trivial to figure out what the question was.

Also: international press? If the international press made any difference, then the original injunction would have been entirely withdrawn instead of being adjusted, since the Minton report is available outside the UK. Anyway - be specific. What organs of the press actually reported this before C-R withdrew? And parliament wasn't even sitting until mid-morning. The blaze of publicity had by that point made the restriction moot, it was hardly surprising that C-R caved before it reached m'lud.

Re:Massive headline FAIL (3, Informative)

vague disclaimer (861154) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743015)

The Guardian played it cute and used Twitter to do so.

Do you rely on Guido's band of libertarian wonks and hope people stumble upon it on Google - or do you appeal directly to (say) Stephen Fry' 830,000 followers (plus practically every working hack and writer who usually use Twitter as a way to banter away the working day)?

It is about distribution, not just publication. The story went from standstill to game-set-match in about 4 hours and that was the Twitter effect. Nowhere near enough people read Guido's ramblings to create that impact that quickly.

Another chance for twitter users to feel special (2, Funny)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742515)

Great! Another victory for democracy, I mean twitter (is there really any difference these days?) Twitter users must be feeling especially proud today to be a part of something really special. I mean, how often do you get to say you're a user on a system of millions, and someone else uses that system to accomplish something? It's like back a few months ago, when twitter helped to overthrow the Iranian government. They were powerless to resist the constant flow of encouragement and support - at one point, a prominent blogger changed his web page to green in support of the protesters, an event widely cited as the tipping point in the revolution. Even now, revolutionary courts are handing down death sentences to the enemies of the people.

Britain - Libel capital of the work. (5, Interesting)

GammaStream (1472247) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742541)

Hopefully this will motivate the courts and Parliament to do something about the problem of people coming to our country and using our courts to solve their petty grievances due to our ridiculous libel laws. The wikipedia article on libel tourism [wikipedia.org] is particularly good in this regard. A lawyer on Newsnight (available on iplayer) last night listed the example of a Ukrainian business man who was suing a Ukrainian website for libel in the British courts under the justification that there happened to be some people in the UK who can read Ukrainian. This sort of stuff has simply got to stop. To help, sign the petition on the the no.10 website [number10.gov.uk] and the website 38 degrees [38degrees.org.uk] is also running a campaign.

Minton report (1)

GammaStream (1472247) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742555)

I should also mention that this question was raised in parliament to link the Minton report to Trafigura. The Minton report is still the subject of an injunction and it's contents can not be mentioned at this moment by the UK press but can be found on wikileaks. [wikileaks.org]

A much repeated "Victory" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742609)

Much as this is a victory for free speech, and another silly law rendered utterly unenforceable.

The court injunction seems to be the result of a hurried meeting between Trafigura and their legal aids in which their options, and the consequences thereof, were not really considered; in particular that stories of businesses involved in toxic waste dumping do not acquire nearly as much interest as stories of Great Britain descending into Orwellian dystopia. (Indeed, I don't recall seeing the story on slashdot about BAE Systems and bribery - a similar, if less environmentally criminal story)

Had they not pressed for the gag. the BBC (where I read the news, and looked up what was said becoming mildly disappointed it was not of something more substantial) would be limited to a headline on the front page of their website along the lines of "Guardian readers offended by yet another corrupt company"

Do we know which idiot judge granted this? (1)

NoNeeeed (157503) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742623)

He/she needs to be introduced to the 1689 Bill Of Rights and it's provision for the free reporting of Parliament. I've looked around, but no one appears to be mentioning the judge by name.

Re:Do we know which idiot judge granted this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742679)

My guess would be Mr Justice Eady, he's got a long history of allowing these kind of injunctions for some fairly unsavoury interests.

Re:Do we know which idiot judge granted this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742923)

quite frankly this Judge needs removing from his post. I have never known such a pathetically craven libel payout device such as this person

Errr...no (4, Informative)

mccalli (323026) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742671)

Twitter nothing. This morning they were threatened with being held in contempt of Parliament. That's when it dropped.

Cheers,
Ian

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742751)

The truly most appalling silence in the media is about Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz (now deceased) and his libel tourism to prevent any comment, anywhere in the world, about funding of terrorism that may have passed through charities (Muwafaq, or Blessed Relief, Foundation) controlled by him.

This extended to the pulping of "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It" by Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld as a result of a libel case brought in Britain for a book published by a US citizen in the US.

Restore? You can't restore what was never there (4, Insightful)

evilandi (2800) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742765)

The Slashdot headline "restore" is wrong. England and Wales [wikipedia.org] have never had freedom of speech. It cannot be "restored", it was never there.

We English and Welshmen value correctness above freedom. Now I'll readily admit that sometimes - often, perhaps - megacorporates and in particular the law firm Carter Fuck [wikipedia.org] try to abuse the system so that they also prevent inconvenient truths from slipping out.

But would I want to live in a country where people can spread lies about each other with no legal redress? No. The problems with freedom of speech go way beyond shouting "Fire!" in a crowded cinema. England and Wales have always regarded responsibilities above freedoms; in this case, the responsibility to get the facts right.

The US gets many things right, and a few things wrong. The USA's bonkers bible-belt religious fundamentalism, for instance, would never be tolerated in England and Wales, as most of it is demonstrably factually incorrect. England and Wales would never suffer from a Kansas-style education system which promoted creationism over science. So, whilst I respect your country's achievements, please don't try to sell me "freedom of speech" as a cure-all. It's no more a cure-all than the snake oil which I understand your forefathers were so keen on selling in the days of your Wild West.

Re:Restore? You can't restore what was never there (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742897)

Holy crap! A rational voice about the US cult of "freedom of speech", on Slashdot!? I think I just saw a pig fly out the window.

Of course, in reality, there is no freedom of speech in the United States either; they too have libel laws and gag orders. Their "freedom of speech" does them the freedom to advocate racial hate and genocide, that's pretty much the only difference.

Re:Restore? You can't restore what was never there (4, Insightful)

yoshi_mon (172895) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743037)

We English and Welshmen value correctness above freedom.

Who's correctness? Who's values? Therein lies the rub.

A system that is fully open always will have issues with 'wrong' theories. But it protects the good ones too. I honestly feel what your saying and good peer review is key. But your idea that openness is a bad thing is flawed.

Re:Restore? You can't restore what was never there (2, Insightful)

coldfarnorth (799174) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743089)

a) I second Yoshi_mon's comment

b) It amuses me that you left the Scots out of your idea of "we". I approve.

c) Our system (usually) allows a reasonable person to see that the emperor is not wearing any clothes, then treat the poor fool appropriately without being sued into oblivion.

d) As to the merits of free speech, we aren't going to stop someone from playing the fool (and deprive ourselves of a potential source of entertainment), like those bible-belters that you mention. I'd sooner boot the circus out of town.

Re:Restore? You can't restore what was never there (1)

mike2R (721965) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743299)

b) It amuses me that you left the Scots out of your idea of "we". I approve.

Presumably because Scottish law is separate from English law, something most Scots, in my experience, seem very aware of :)

Re:Restore? You can't restore what was never there (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743361)

The Slashdot headline "restore" is wrong. England and Wales [wikipedia.org] have never had freedom of speech. It cannot be "restored", it was never there.

Indeed. Any judge is still allowed to prevent the media from reporting on Parliament. (Trafigura's lawyers dropped the gag request). There is still no freedom.

Basically, a massive failure on all levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742901)

This multinational Swiss-based company I never heard about, Trafigura [wikipedia.org] , was involved with the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast [wikipedia.org] because they contracted some guy there with no hazardous waste disposal expertise to do the job, sickening thousands of people and killing some as well, and then tried to stop publication of a question posed in the House of Commons about the matter, and tried to stop discussion of the fact that legal threats had been used to stop that publication? Finally, the Dutch press officer of Trafigura is accused of trying to alter the wikipedia article on the 2006 Ivory Coast dumping event [wikipedia.org] in 2007.

Just how many layers of evil and failure can they manage to cram into one event?

Point of information for non Brit slashdotters... (2, Informative)

vorlich (972710) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743355)

This is a story about the law as it applies in England and Wales. Scotland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotland [wikipedia.org] (that famous non-sovereign state -slashdot anon) has an entirely separate and distinctly different, Roman based system of law and no real equivalent of the infamous Carter Ruck (billed as a "British Law Firm" whatever that is) and subsequently no really litigious use of libel laws on the magnitude of those in England.
Scottish Judges are renowned for making anyone guilty of contempt spend at least one night in the cells - famous editors and briefs included. Much to the amusement to the mainly retired and unemployed audience in the public gallery.
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