Monday, 9 May 2011

Twitter - trumping the right to be let alone

I’ve just read some stuff on Twitter which reports on behaviour that is so naughty that (apparently) some English Judges have issued super-injunctions, forbidding me to let you know all about it.

So I won’t.

But I expect you know all about it anyway. You, and several million others.

It took me, thanks to Google’s brilliant search engine, less than 3 seconds to get to what others have probably paid lawyers thousands of pounds to try and suppress. And I didn't even have to go to Twitter to read it. It's been re-tweeted and had appeared on an extremely reputable website. Of course, what I might have read could have been a load of codswallop. It could all have been complete lies. But, somehow, I don’t think so. If the former model Katie Price had been mentioned, then I would have suspected that it was a load of made up tosh. But her name didn’t feature anywhere. Thank goodness for that.

Instead, I read about a smattering of television personalities, most of whom I would have failed to recognise even if they were in front of me, operating a check-out till at my local Waitrose, sportsmen (the same) and an actor (oh no, I think I would recognise that actor). They are probably all wishing that the European Commission would hurry up revising the Data Protection Directive, and give them stronger rights to be let alone.

One of the proposals contained in the European Commission’s recent plan to amend the data protection directive came from the premise that individuals should always be able to access, rectify, delete or block their data, unless there are legitimate reasons, provided by law, for preventing this.

Cummon, lets get real here. People who profit from their celebrity are going to have to work pretty hard to control all aspects of their personal behaviour in today’s online and interconnected world. And none of us are really going to want to forgo our delicious pleasure at reading about the fascinating antics of people whose lifestyles we can only dream of.

Still, lets see what’s going to happen.

If the serivce had been offered by Google, rather than Twitter, I would have expected a chorus of (varying degrees of) disapproval to have instantly erupted from the Data Protection regulators in many EU Member States. Some regulators might already probably have announced that they were contemplating significant fines, or custodial sentences, against the "Twitterati", while others might just just be thinking of asking Twitter executives to pop by for afternoon tea and a polite chat.

But Twitter? How does an domestic Data Protection regulator deal with an organisation that, being based in San Francisco, California, probably has no formal establishment in that Member State in the first place? Does it even recognise that the “foreign” celebrities face their reputations being challenged in the minds of the local citizens who can read and freely discuss what cannot be mentioned in polite society within the jurisdiction of the English courts?

Let’s see how the regulators (and the courts) play this. The challenge is on. How many people need to know about the stuff that “dare not speak its name” before they realise that the internet has won? And will this teach a lesson to those who wish to interfere with the rights of those who decide to ignore an individual who tries to block access to their data, on the grounds that the “illegitimate” act they apparently committed has affected their commercial value?

If we cherish internet freedoms sufficiently to enable citizens in various countries to spontaneously erupt against their own Governments, how can we expect the odd individual to acquire (even in a democratic society) the right to require the state to censor reports about their own less illustrious behaviours?

For just how long should you be entitled to exist, you inconvenient truth?

Oh no, you're on your own, this time!