Social Icons

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Defamation Bill 2012-13

The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's Defamation Bill will have its second reading in Parliament today.  Even if you are not a web site operator, you should be extremely concerned about what this bill could do to your on-line privacy if it is enacted.  The bill is perhaps intended to effectively kill free speech and opinion on-line under the guise of protecting people's reputations.  The BBC reports that web site operators will be forced to reveal the IP addresses of those who comment on sites they visit if someone makes a defamation or libel claim against that comment (emphasis added):
"Website operators are in principle liable as publishers for everything that appears on their sites, even though the content is often determined by users," said Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.

 "But most operators are not in a position to know whether the material posted is defamatory or not and very often - faced with a complaint - they will immediately remove material.

"Our proposed approach will mean that website operators have a defence against libel as long as they identify the authors of allegedly defamatory material when requested to do so by a complainant."
Did you see that? In essence, comments that are only alleged to be defamatory will require that bloggers or web site operators pass on the IP addresses of the users making those comments.  Otherwise, the operator will be liable and prosecuted. Amnesty only if you comply with Big Government it seems.

So while this whole thing is dressed up as protection against on-line bullies and smear campaigns, is its true purpose meant to stifle free speech and opinion in the long run? If enough people are outed and prosecuted, then perhaps people will think twice before leaving an opinion on a blog or news site?

The United Kingdom has some of the worst free speech protections of any western democracy as it is. This bill could further reduce our free speech protections.  Well, we will have to see what is in the revised bill. The previous draft bill removed your right to a trial by jury.  Let us hope they amended that bit at the very least.