Tag Archives: privacy

Welcome to journalism. Now delete your history.

Yesterday an 18-year-old journalism student told me he’d deleted his entire Twitter history using TweetDelete. The same day I noticed that another had changed his Twitter username to remove a reference to Newcastle United.

I was not an innocent bystander – I have to admit: I’d sort of advised them to do this…

Full circle in five years

Some history: I’ve been training journalists and student journalists to use Twitter for almost five years now, and have seen an enormous shift in that time.

In those early classes – between 2008 and 2010 – the difficulty was getting people to write more informally: almost no one had a Twitter account, so they approached it as a professional tool, with professionalism very much in mind.

By the third year, however, things were starting to change. By then around half would typically have pre-existing Twitter accounts, and many were using them in a personal capacity. The problem was not using Twitter in the first place, but how to combine the professional with the personal. “Should I have a different account for personal use?” Yes, I used to say.

Now I don’t.

There’s no such thing as a personal Twitter account

I no longer suggest having separate professional and personal accounts because, aside from the difficulty of running two accounts, frankly there is no such thing as a truly personal, even private, account if you are a journalist.

Some manage the balance: Joanna Geary, who maintains @guardianJoanna and @joannaGeary, springs to mind. But Joanna is able to do that because her ‘personal’ account is barely distinguishable from her ‘work’ account: she acts professionally; she talks about things that interest many of the same people who follow her ‘professionally’.

Joanna, in other words, is the exception.

In the movement from one audience (close friends) to another (strangers who may be judging our credibility as reporters) the harsh truth is that we will be judged unfairly against a standard we never anticipated.

And so I ended up showing TweetDelete to a class of 18-year-olds.

And I only had to mention SnapChat, and sexting for them to get it.

Welcome to the world of permanence. Please keep an eye on your past. For the sake of convenience, you may want to delete it (at least TweetDelete will give you an archived copy).

Note: Ross Hawkes has a fascinating exercise on the same subject: he will find tweets by members of the class and present them back to the class with the name removed. What would they think? “But it’s out of context!” Exactly.

Launch of new survey on the legal experiences and views of journalists and online publishers

A new survey for journalists, bloggers and online publishers, which can be found at this link, aims to collect information about their experiences of and views on libel and privacy law

A system of arbitration is at the heart of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations, and different versions are included in the the government’s draft Royal Charter and the industry’s own proposals [PDF].

The suggestion is that an arbitration service could deal with libel and privacy complaints that would otherwise go to court.

Last minute amendments to the Crime and Courts bill (now Act) would allow for bloggers to opt into the regulatory arbitration system and receive costs benefits.

Additionally and separately, recommendations have also been made for Mediation and Early Resolution in defamation disputes.

However, there is very little solid data about the nature and quantity of legal claims made against the media, including small bloggers. Because the majority of libel claims, for example, are believed to be resolved out of court, there is no complete record of disputes.

In short, little is known about bloggers’ and journalists’ actual legal experiences and opinions.

In an effort to build a better picture and to help inform the development of new alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, I am launching a survey as the final part of my doctoral project at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London.

This questionnaire is open to all types of journalists and online writers who expect their readership to be predominantly based in England and/or Wales.

Please take part and share your experiences and encourage your colleagues and friends to participate as well.

All data will be collected anonymously with no identification of organisations or individuals.

The questionnaire can be found here:

Many thanks for your help! If you have any questions you can email me: (judith.townend.1@city.ac.uk) or tweet  (@jtownend).

About the project

This survey is part of Judith Townend’s doctoral project at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London. The research project, which has been given ethical approval by the CLJJ, explores how journalists and online writers are affected by libel and privacy law, as well as other social and legal factors. It will draw attention to the issues faced by online writers and journalists, and help inform the development of resources in this area.

About this questionnaire

  • The questionnaire is open to all types of journalists and online writers who expect their readership to be predominantly based in England and/or Wales.
  • It should take between 10 and 30 minutes to complete, depending on your experiences and views. Some questions require an answer so you can be taken to the next relevant question.
  • All data will be collected anonymously with no identification of organisations or individuals.
  • The information you have submitted will included in a final report to be published in 2013/14, which may be used for future online and print publications.
  • Please contact Judith Townend with any questions, or to obtain the final results.

Contact details:

Judith Townend, c/o Peter Aggar, Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, City University London, Northampton Square, London EC1V 0HB, Tel: +44 (0)20 7040 8167

E-mail: judith.townend.1@city.ac.uk

Online security for journalists: never assume you’re secure

image from xkcd

image from xkcd

With news last week of the New York Times and Washington Post being hacked recently, The Muckraker‘s Lyra McKee looks at internet security.

“They were able to hack into the computer and remotely access my Facebook account, printing out a transcript of a private conversation. Then they told me who I’d been talking to over the past week and who was on my contacts list. They’d hacked into my phone. When they first told me they could hack into computers and phones, I didn’t believe them. So they showed me.”

I was sitting at the kitchen table of one of Northern Ireland’s few investigative journalists. He was shaken.

In thirty years of reporting, Colin (not his real name) has seen things that would leave the average person traumatized. A confidante of IRA terrorists, he has shaken hands with assassins and invited them into his home for a chat over a cup of tea – as he had done with me that night.

A few weeks previous, during one visit from a source, the subject of hacking had come up. Continue reading

Leveson: the Internet Pops In

The following post was originally published by Gary Herman on the NUJ New Media blog. It’s reproduced here with permission.

Here at Newmedia Towers we are being swamped by events which at long last are demonstrating that the internet is really rather relevant to the whole debate about media ethics and privacy. So this is by way of a short and somewhat belated survey of the news tsunami – Google, Leveson, Twitter, ACTA, the EU and more.

When Camilla Wright, founder of celebrity gossip site Popbitch (which some years ago broke the news of Victoria Beckham’s pregnancy possibly before she even knew about it), testified before Leveson last week (26 January 2012) [Guardian liveblog; Wright's official written statement (PDF)] the world found out (if it could be bothered) how Popbitch is used by newspaper hacks to plant stories so that they can then be said to have appeared on the internet. Anyone remember the Drudge report, over a decade ago?

Wright, of course, made a somewhat lame excuse that Popbitch is a counterweight to gossip magazines which are full of stories placed by the PR industry.

But most interesting is the fact that Wright claimed that Popbitch is self-regulated and that it works.

Leveson pronounced that he is not sure there is ‘so much of a difference’ between what Popbitch does and what newspapers do – which is somehow off the point. Popbitch – like other websites – has a global reach by definition and Wright told the Inquiry that Popbitch tries to comply with local laws wherever it was available – claims also made more publicly by Google and Yahoo! when they have in the past given in to Chinese pressure to release data that actually or potentially incriminated users and, more recently, by Twitter when it announced its intention to regulate tweets on a country-by-country basis.

Trivia – like the stuff Popbitch trades – aside, the problem is real. A global medium will cross many jurisdictions and be accessible within many different cultures. What one country welcomes, another may ban. And who should judge the merits of each?

Confusing the internet with its applications

The Arab Spring showed us that social media – like mobile phones, CB radios, fly-posted silkscreen prints, cheap offset litho leaflets and political ballads before them – have the power to mobilise and focus dissent. Twitter’s announcement should have been expected – after all, tweeting was never intended to be part of the revolutionaries’ tool-kit.

There are already alternatives to Twitter – Vibe, Futubra, Plurk, Easy Chirp and Blackberry Messenger, of course – and the technology itself will not be restrained by the need to expand into new markets. People confuse the internet with its applications – a mistake often made by those authorities who seek to impose a duty to police content on those who convey it.

Missing the point again, Leveson asked whether it would be useful to have an external ombudsman to advise Popbitch on stories and observed that a common set of standards across newspapers and websites might also help.

While not dismissing the idea, Wright made the point that the internet made it easy for publications to bypass UK regulators.

This takes us right into the territory of Google, Facebook and the various attempts by US and international authorities to introduce regulation and impose duties on websites themselves to police them.

ACTA, SOPA and PIPA

The latest example is the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) – a shadowy international treaty which, according to Google’s legal director, Daphne Keller, speaking over a year ago, has ‘metastasized’ from a proposal on border security and counterfeit goods to an international legal framework covering copyright and the internet.

According to a draft of ACTA, released for public scrutiny after pressure from the European Union, internet providers who disable access to pirated material and adopt a policy to counter unauthorized ‘transmission of materials protected by copyright’ will be protected against legal action.

Fair use rights would not be guaranteed under the terms of the agreement.

Many civil liberty groups have protested the process by which ACTA has been drafted as anti-democratic and ACTA’s provisions as draconian.

Google’s Keller described ACTA as looking ‘a lot like cultural imperialism’.

Google later became active in the successful fight against the US Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the related Protect Intellectual Proerty Act (PIPA), which contained similar provisions to ACTA.

Google has been remarkably quite on the Megaupload case, however. This saw the US take extraterritorial action against a Hong Kong-based company operating a number of websites accused of copyright infringement.

The arrest of all Megaupload’s executives and the closure of its sites may have the effect of erasing perfectly legitimate and legal data held on the company’s servers – something which would on the face of it be an infringement of the rights of Megaupload users who own the data.

Privacy

Meanwhile, Google – in its growing battle with Facebook – has announced its intention to introduce a single privacy regime for 60 or so of its websites and services which will allow the company to aggregate all the data on individual users the better to serve ads.

Facebook already does something similar, although the scope of its services is much, much narrower than Google’s.

Privacy is at the heart of the current action against Google by Max Mosley, who wants the company to take down all links to external websites from its search results if those sites cover the events at the heart of his successful libel suit against News International.

Mosley is suing Google in the UK, France and Germany, and Daphne Keller popped up at the Leveson Inquiry, together with David-John Collins, head of corporate communications and public affairs for Google UK, to answer questions about the company’s policies on regulation and privacy.

Once again, the argument regarding different jurisdictions and the difficulty of implementing a global policy was raised by Keller and Collins.

Asked about an on-the-record comment by former Google chief executive, Eric Schmidt, that ‘only miscreants worry about net privacy’, Collins responded that the comment was not representative of Google’s policy on privacy, which it takes ‘extremely seriously’.

There is, of course, an interesting disjuncture between Google’s theoretical view of privacy and its treatment of its users. When it comes to examples like Max Mosley, Google pointed out – quite properly – that it can’t police the internet, that it does operate across jurisdictions and that it does ensure that there are comprehensive if somewhat esoteric mechanisms for removing private data and links from the Google listings and caches.

Yet it argues that, if individuals choose to use Google, whatever data they volunteer to the company is fair game for Google – even where that data involves third persons who may not have assented to their details being known or when, as happened during the process of building Google’s StreetView application, the company collected private data from domestic wi-fi routers without the consent or knowledge of the householders.

Keller and Collins brought their double-act to the UK parliament a few days later when they appeared before the joint committee on privacy and injunctions, chaired by John Whittingdale MP.

When asked why Google did not simply ‘find and destroy’ all instances of the images and video that Max Mosley objected to, they repeated their common mantras – Google is not the internet, and neither can nor should control the websites its search results list.

Accused by committee member Lord MacWhinney of ‘ducking and diving’ and of former culture minister, Ben Bradshaw of being ‘totally unconvincing’, Keller noted that Google could in theory police the sites it indexed, but that ‘doing so is a bad idea’.

No apparatus disinterested and qualified enough

That seems indisputable – regulating the internet should not be the job of providers like Google, Facebook or Twitter. On the contrary, the providers are the ones to be regulated, and this should be the job of legislatures equipped (unlike the Whittingdale committee) with the appropriate level of understanding and coordinated at a global level.

The internet requires global oversight – but we have no apparatus that is disinterested and qualified enough to do the job.

A new front has been opened in this battle by the latest draft rules on data protection issued by Viviane Reding’s Justice Directorate at the European Commission on 25 January.

Reding is no friend of Google or the big social networks and is keen to draw them into a framework of legislation that will – should the rules pass into national legislation – be coordinated at EU level.

Reding’s big ideas include a ‘right to be forgotten’ which will apply to online data only and an extension of the scope of personal data to cover a user’s IP address. Confidentiality should be built-in to online systems according to the new rules – an idea called ‘privacy by design’.

These ideas are already drawing flak from corporates like Google who point out that the ‘right to be forgotten’ is something that the company already upholds as far as the data it holds is concerned.

Reding’s draft rules includes an obligation by so-called ‘data controllers’ such as Google to notify third parties when someone wishes their data to be removed, so that links and copies can also be removed.

Not surprisingly, Google objects to this requirement which, if not exactly a demand to police the internet, is at least a demand to ‘help the police with their enquiries’.

The problem will not go away: how do you make sure that a global medium protects privacy, removes defamation and respects copyright while preserving its potential to empower the oppressed and support freedom of speech everywhere?

Answers on a postcard, please.

Report: Social Media and News

Report: Social Media and NewsLast year I was commissioned to write a report on ‘Social Media and News’ for the Open Society Media Program, as part of the ‘Mapping Digital Media’ series. The report is now available here (PDF).

As I say in the introduction, I focused on “the areas that are most strongly contested and hold the most importance for the development of news reporting”, namely:

  • competition over copyright between individuals, news organisations, and social media platforms;
  • the move to hyperlocal and international-scope publishing;
  • the tensions between privacy and freedom of speech; and
  • attempts by governments and corporations to control what happens online.

These and other developments (such as the growth of APIs which “connect the information that we consume with the information we increasingly embody”) are then explored with specific reference to issues of editorial independence, public interest and public service, pluralism and diversity, accountability, and freedom of expression.

That’s quite a lot to cover in 4,000 words. So for those who want to explore some of the issues or cases in more detail – or follow recent updates (and a lot has happened even since finishing the report) – I’ve been collecting related links at this Delicious ‘stack’, and on an ongoing basis at this tag.

Guest post: visualising mobile phone data – the data retention app

datarentention_app

In a guest post Lorenz Matzat, editor of ZEIT Online’s Open Data Blog, writes about the background to their online app exploring the issues around data retention by mobile phone companies.

It’s not very often that one can follow the direct impact of an article, let alone a piece of data journalism. But the visualization of the cellphone data of Malte Spitz from the Green party in Germany led to visible repercussions in the US.

Following a piece in the New York Times about Spitz and the data app, some days ago two senators wrote a letter to the 4 main US-carriers for information about their data retention policy.

After publishing the app in German one month ago (and 20 days later the English version), the feedback was overhelming. We didn’t think that so many people would be so interested in it. But Twitter and Facebook in Germany went wild with it for some days – along with coverage in many major tech websites.

Probably this is why data journalism works: Making an abstract notion everybody knows about visible: that every position of you, and every connection of your mobile phone does is – or could be – logged. Every call, text message and data connection.

The background

Around February 1st, ZEIT Online asked me if I had an idea what do do with the dataset of Malte Spitz (read the background story about the legal action of Spitz to get the data here). Continue reading

Epic Boobs are fair game, says PCC

Fascinating decision by the Press Complaints Commission today on a privacy complaint against Loaded magazine that involved images of a then-15-year-old girl’s breasts taken from the social network Bebo.

Web User puts it more succinctly than the decision itself, but for publishers it boils down to this: the complaint was rejected because the image had been circulated widely on the internet over the past four years – in fact, the decision says there were over 200,000 matches on an image search on this particular person as the “Epic boobs” girl.

Beehive City puts it this way:

“In other words – if it’s everywhere online, you’ve lost your right to privacy and in the case of the picture taker, perhaps to copyright too. Which is why everybody was last week furiously spreading the David Cameron Shepard Fairey image produced by The Sun, and why perhaps with enough spreading that Bullingdon Photo will be impossible to suppress too.”

What complicates the decision even further is that, while the girl was 15 when the images were published, she is now an adult - and was an adult when Loaded published the images:

“Issues of taste and offence – and any question of the legality of the material – could not be ruled upon by the Commission, which was compelled to consider only the terms of the Editors’ Code. The Code does include references to children but the complainant was not a child at the time the article was published.”

The distinction here is between harming a vulnerable person, and an image of a vulnerable person; or between the thing and the person. Publishing that image now does not harm an unprotected 19-year-old adult; publishing it 4 years ago would have harmed a vulnerable, and therefore protected, 15-year-old. But taking the picture 4 years ago would, I imagine, have constituted exploiting a vulnerable person and someone taking that picture could still be prosecuted now that she is 19.

Still with me?

Also on Press Gazette.

Presentation: Law for bloggers and journalists (UK)

Yesterday I hosted a session on law for my MA Online Journalism students, which I thought I would embed below.

Some background: I teach all my sessions in a coffee shop in central Birmingham – anyone can drop in. This week I specifically invited local bloggers, and so the shape of the presentation was very much flavoured by contributions from The Lichfield Blog‘s Philip John; Nick Booth from Podnosh and BeVocal; Talk About Local‘s Nicky Getgood; Hannah Waldram of the Bournville Village BlogGavin Wray, Matthew Mark, and Mike Rawlins of Stoke’s Pits N Pots. The editor of the Birmingham Post Marc Reeves also came for an hour to share his own experiences in the regional press.

Two things occurred to me during the process of preparation and delivery of the session. The first is that law in this context is much broader: as well as the classic areas for journalists such as defamation, you have to take into account online publishing issues such as terms and conditions, data protection and user generated content.

Secondly, I’ve long been an advocate of conversational teaching styles (one of the reasons I teach in a coffee lounge) and this was a great example of that in practice. The presentation below is just a series of signposts – the actual session lasted 4 hours and included various tangents (some of which I’ve incorporated into this published version). Experiences in the group of students and guests ranged across broadcasting, print, photography, online publishing, academic study, and international law, and I came out of the session having learned a lot too.

I hope you can add some more points, examples, or anything I’ve missed. Here it is:

Review: Search Engine Society by Alexander Halavais

Searching is the most popular activity online after email. It is the prism through which we experience a significant proportion of the world’s information – from news and information about our community, through to health information, commerce, and just about anything that has a presence online.

Search Engine Society takes a critical look at search engines, how they work, the techniques used to manipulate them – from gaining better rankings to censorship, and the implications for privacy and democracy. Continue reading

The complicated case of the (now not) anonymous police blogger, The Times, and ‘public interest’

Widely lauded anonymous police blogger NightJack has had his identity revealed after The Times took the affair to court.

It’s a cloudy affair. The Times’ angle is that media correspondent Patrick Foster wanted to ‘out’ someone he felt “was revealing confidential details about cases, some involving sex offences against children, that could be traced back to genuine prosecutions” as well as offering “advice to people who found themselves the subject of a police investigation.”

NightJack’s case for preventing the publication of his name was that he would be (and indeed has already been) punished by his superiors.

Mr Justice Eady didn’t buy that, saying: “I do not accept that it is part of the court’s function to protect police officers who are, or think they may be, acting in breach of police discipline regulations from coming to the attention of their superiors.”

The Times also reports him as saying “that even if the blogger could have claimed he had a right to anonymity, the judge would have ruled against him on public interest grounds.”

Hugh Tomlinson, QC, for the blogger, had argued that “thousands of regular bloggers who communicate nowadays via the internet under a cloak of anonymity would be horrified to think that the law would do nothing to protect their anonymity of someone carried out the necessary detective work and sought to unmask them”.

The judge said … the blogger needed to show that he had a legally enforceable right to maintain anonymity in the absence of a genuine breach of confidence, by suppressing the fruits of detective work such as that carried out by Mr Foster.

But Mr Justice Eady said that the mere fact that the blogger wanted to remain anonymous did not mean that he had a “reasonable expectation” of doing so; or that The Times was under an enforceable obligation to him to maintain that anonymity.

There are so many elements to this case it’s difficult to pick them apart.

  • On the one hand we have a blog which is potentially, in some circumstances, in contempt of court, written by a policeman who is, strictly speaking, breaking his obligations under the “statutory code governing police behaviour and general public law duty”. That’s The Times’ ‘public interest’, or at least the case that they made (The Times have history here – it would have been interesting to have seen the public interest argument for publishing the name of Girl With A One Track Mind).
  • On the other we have someone’s privacy.
  • But the 3rd point – and it’s interesting that this doesn’t seem to have been used as a defence – is that this is a ruling that has enormous implications for whistleblowers and people blogging ‘on the ground’. That’s someone else’s ‘public interest’.

And that last element is the saddest for me.

With the disappearance of NightJack (his blog has already been deleted*), we lose one more ‘voice on the ground’. While The Times focused on the letter of the law that was being broken, the broader public interest of letting public servants voice their…

frustrations with … attempts at the reform of policing which, he says, has turned officers from “approachable neighbourhood figures into neon-clad stormtroopers.””

…has been ignored.

It is difficult enough to get soldiers to blog, for people to get a genuine feel for the experiences of NHS workers, civil servants and teachers.

And it just got harder.

UPDATE: Curiously, The Times appear to have prevented their reporter from speaking about the issue on Radio 5.

UPDATE 2: A couple of Times journalists have gone on the record with their feelings about the affair.

UPDATE 3: NightJack himself has written a piece in The Times on the story behind the case. Anonymong describes it as “reminiscent of a communist show trial where the accused is allowed to publicly confess their sins and misdemeanors.” But the comments tell a very different story of support.

UPDATE 4: I’ve written a guide to anonymity for bloggers.

UPDATE 5: Via Anonymong:  “as noted by Anna Raccoon there is now some precedent for investigating and publishing identifying material relating to a serving police office as prohibited by the counter terrorism act 2008.”

UPDATE 6: As you’d expect, someone has dug into Patrick Foster’s past and come up with some dirt of their own.

UPDATE 7: Fellow public service blogger and ambulance driver Tom Reynolds gives his views on the case. Chicken Yoghurt gives his on the media’s use of anonymous sources. David MacLean responds: “Of course journalists rely on anonymous sources, but if a rival national newspaper found out who was tipping off a competitor, they’d more than likely expose them if the resulting story would be of interest to the public.”. Emily Bell highlights the raft of furious comments on The Times’ Crime Central blog. Gary Andrews gives his take. And Journalism.co.uk round up some more besides.

UPDATE 8 [Jan 24 2012] It seems that Nightjack’s email was hacked in order to get that story.

(h/t Girlonetrack) *Thanks to Martin in the comments: if you type “site:nightjack.wordpress.com” into Google, the pages appear to be cached. Don’t know how long that will last though.