I was struck by something yesterday: the things that I research and teach about seem to be becoming more and more topical. What drove it home was the Philip Schofield/David Cameron incident on ITV’s This Morning – happening in a week where on Monday and Tuesday I was lecturing about defamation defences and defamation reform, and on the very day of the incident was running a seminar on privacy and defamation in the press.
It was a bit strange – and I hope the students appreciated the strangeness – to be able to talk about an incident as it actually unfolded. We looked at the clip on the internet as it happened, and discussed all the potential issues – because there are big potential implications in terms of both privacy and defamation from the event. I’m not going to write much more about it here – I want to see how events unfold – save to say that for me it’s really important to understand that even people that we intensely dislike or disapprove of have rights, and need to have those rights respected. That means people accused of or suspected of paedophilia – even more than most, because if they’re innocent the false accusation is one of the most hideously damaging you can have, and the torches and pitchforks seem to be out on twitter and elsewhere at the drop of a hat in the current climate. It also means David Cameron – as anyone who knows me will realise, I’m a strong opponent of Cameron and his government, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have rights. Neither does it mean that he should be ambushed in the way that he was (though as others have pointed out he did choose the ‘safe’ sofa of This Morning over the tough chair of Newsnight, so to an extent is his own worst enemy). It also means, in my opinion, that we should give him the benefit of at least some doubt – personally I don’t think he was deliberately trying to suggest that there’s some sort of link between paedophilia and homosexuality, but that others might try to make such a link, and to warn against it. Anyone who ever reads the Daily Mail would know that this is entirely likely!
I shall be watching as events unfold with a lot of interest – and some trepidation, because there are distinct possibilities this could get very messy indeed. Time will tell. It’s not, however, the only thing that has made me feel that my subjects are becoming more and more topical. For some reason, this last week seems to have been one where my ‘stuff’ has come out. Four new things by or about me have appeared on the net:
First, my blog post for the UK Constitutional Law Group, about online anonymity rights – a very British dilemma: found here
I particularly liked doing this post because it allowed me to explore an aspect of privacy and anonymity that I don’t often look at – the fact that it’s part of our tradition in the UK, not just something new and trendy. We’ve always wanted privacy – and I suspect we always will.
Second, my post for Russell Webster’s ‘Why I Tweet’ series: found here
One of the things I really enjoy on twitter is that there’s a great community of people of all kinds – and in particular there’s a strong ‘privacy community’ of people from all over the world who have interesting things to say, interesting links and so on.
Third, the first clips from my interviews for Orwell Upgraded series – me talking about Big Data. found here
I’m looking forward to the final edited version of the programmes – though I’m not at all sure that I can deal with the extremely high quality of the video… far too accurate a close up of my face!
Fourth, a Q&A I did on ‘Do Not Track’ for PcPro.com – another key, current internet privacy debate: found here
All in all I’ve felt like I was part of something that is topical – and important at the same time. It’s a good feeling, but a daunting one. People do seem to be interested in the subject, which is great: even just a few years ago most of what I talked about and researched into seemed to be very much a niche subject. Privacy – and most of my stuff is privacy related in some form or other – is becoming bigger and bigger news, and more people are understanding its importance. On Monday, I’m on a panel at the Internet Service Providers Association conference, talking about the Communications Data Bill – the snoopers’ charter – another big privacy issue, and one that I’ve talked and written a lot about before. The fact that the internet industry (and that’s what the ISPA represents) is making a privacy-related subject one of the key points of their annual conference is very important. Despite many signs in the other direction – not least the willingness of people like Philip Schofield to put people’s privacy at risk just because of rumours on the internet – I think the trend towards privacy may be a positive one. I hope so!