A committee of UK MPs investigating the Internet's role in compromising Britain's privacy laws have concluded that the best way to ensure that court orders demanding suppression of tittle-tattle about the love-lives of celebrities and oligarchs (as well as the criminal misdeeds of giant corporations) is to order Google to censor its search results for British people, to make sure that we don't discover these activities. They have recommended that Parliament pass a law ordering Google to develop censorship programmes for use in the UK. They also want more British people sued for violating UK privacy orders — which are the go-to legislative vehicle for censoring legitimate criticism by outspending your critics — on the Internet. Finally, they want advertisers to pull their ads from websites and newspapers that refuse the "voluntary" code of conduct that demands the media kowtow to the courts' secrecy orders.
I like the idea of strong privacy legislation, but the UK tradition of using "privacy" as the rubric for censorship on behalf of the rich and powerful robs these recommendations of any legitimacy.
"Google and other search engines should take steps to ensure that their websites are not used as vehicles to breach the law and should actively develop and use such technology," the committee said. "We recommend that if legislation is necessary to require them to do so it should be introduced."
The committee gave a clean bill of health to high court privacy injunctions, but said that they should routinely apply to websites such as Twitter and Facebook as well as newspapers. They urged the attorney general to be more willing to launch contempt of court claims against internet users if they are suspected of breaching privacy injunctions online, after it was found that the Giggs injunction was tweeted about more than 75,000 times when it finally collapsed in May last year.
In a series of recommendations on the future of press regulation, the committee said the reformed Press Complaints Commission should have the power to fine newspapers and determine the prominence of printed apologies. It urged advertisers to withdraw funding from newspapers and major blogs that opt out of the reconstituted regulator, and threatened "statutory oversight" from a body such as Ofcom if the industry cannot agree a credible package of reforms.