A ruling came down today in the Nightjack Blogger case in the UK. While this is a UK case and not in US courts, it bears looking into due to the stated use of non-US jurisprudence by certain members of the US Supreme Court (such as departing Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg). While my initial reaction is certainly not a Chicken Little viewpoint like some of the commentators on the article, it is certainly something that should be watched.
There are plenty of bloggers out there who post under a shroud of full or partial anonymity (I don’t use my actual name here, but I also take no real pains to hide the means to find it out). For many of them, their privacy and keeping their identity private is a large issue for them, especially if their blogging deals with sensitive things that certain people may want kept quiet for a variety of reasons. The issue comes into question, however, when you’re dealing with someone who is putting their work out specifically for public consumption, which arguably is the case for any blogger. If someone just wanted to keep a journal, there are better ways to do it than putting something up on the Internet.
When taken down to brass tacks, I agree with the ruling. By putting forward his blog the way he did, he had no reasonable expectation of anonymity. If he wanted to be a whistle-blower but not be subject to outing, then there are other ways to do it. By putting out a blog with the information, there is a certain amount of egotism involved. It is also then purely in the public arena. The Times, from what I’ve read, did nothing illegal to find out his identity. Therefore he doesn’t really have any ground on which to stand.
Where this issue becomes murkier, though, is when you’re dealing with the question of whether a blogger is a journalist or not. As a general rule, I would say they are not. I know I’m certainly not a journalist. At best, I’m a commentator. Much as Talk Radio personalities like Boortz, Hannity, and Limbaugh aren’t journalists, neither are many bloggers currently in operation. A small sub-set out there are journalists, however. This line blurs even more when you consider that a number of reporters today have blogs to go along with their standard reporting duties.
Should this issue come up in the United States, it’s entirely possible you would see a different ruling from the Supreme Court. I do not, though, believe it would be probable. Once you put yourself out in the public realm, you’re generally ceding your right to privacy in regards to your identity.
To take the subject of an older gag cartoon and tack onto it: just because on the Internet no one knows you’re a dog doesn’t protect you from someone finding out and telling everyone.