Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Britain's little Tahrir: How twitter beat the courts

I have never watched Big Brother, and I am not a fan of English Premier League Football. So just two weeks ago I had no idea who Ryan Giggs and this Big Brother girlfriend of his were, and I can't say I really care at all. Thing is that Mr. Giggs, who I understand is very good at kicking footballs around, made this is to a core issue of freedom of information. Ryan Giggs managed to make what would normally be just another stupid story on the tabloids in to a global issue about the freedom of the new media, and he and England elites lost badly.

"The future use of injunctions could be in doubt after the naming in Parliament of a footballer who tried to use one to hide an alleged affair.

"Lib Dem MP John Hemming named Manchester United star Ryan Giggs in a Commons question on privacy orders.

"The prime minister has called for a review into the use of injunctions, calling it 'unsustainable'."

Like Egypt England is a nation long in the influence of the global economy. So far the rich and powerful of England have tried to make it so that they got the benefits and the average people got the costs. So mill workers in the North of England who lost their jobs to overseas production were told they needed to adjust to the new global realities.

Oddly when the new global realities of information markets started to really take hold in the UK England's elites acted like Egyptian or Russian elites: they tried to use their positions of power to ensure their continued benefits. In the UK the game of power is played more subtly and with more skill than in Egypt. While the Egyptian regimes sent hired goons on to the streets to try and impose their power the High Courts of England tried something profoundly more subtle: they simply tried to order what true facts could exist or not exist.

A super-injunction is essential an expensive court order that a true piece of information can not be communicated within a culture.

Now the pretext is privacy. That pretext itself made this more painful for most users. There has long been no privacy in CCTV England.

When an English woman in Coventry was captured on a CCTV throwing a cat in a bin there was no super-injunction to protect her privacy. The woman very well may be suffering from some mental illness, or a major crisis. But the idea that she would have any right to privacy was the furthest thing from most people's minds.

In fact poverty forces people in to often selling away privacy rights. An interesting example is the story of Alfie Patten, a 13 old boy who was conned by the parents of a pregnant 15 year old girl in to thinking he was the father of her baby. The reason was precisely to get in to the media. In a nation where so many have been left on marginal incomes without opportunities privacy is a luxury that can not be afforded. If the media is interested in your story the money that they offer to pay, generally less than a 1% or so of what they will make off the story, is too tempting to ignore.

Before Alfie Patten was 14 years old he was exposed as something of a naive fool. The long term impact on his life is pretty negative. But the High Court and Parliament at the time never seemed all that bothered that a minor was being drawn in to the most humiliating violation of privacy.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the News of the Worlds phone tapping. This scandal is a direct and internationally illegal wife tapping of major UK figures including political figures by a paper then headed by a close ally and former aid to the UK Prime Minister. Allegations that Scotland Yard was being bribed have emerged after the police first avoided investigations and only pursued the case when evidence was collected by some of the victims.

The News of the World is owned by Murdoch. At that time the paper was edited by Andy Coulson who would later served Prime Minister Cameron as communication director. The story was not broken until the Royal Family became convinced their phones were being tapped. That was back in 2006! It would be three years until the Guardian news paper would investigate and the extent of industrial spying by News Corp's paper would be come to be known.

Though Coulson, who has since been forced out of government, and Murdoch claim to have known nothing the case shows how privacy can be violated in the most corrupt levels by papers.

Perhaps the super-injunctions were an effort by a court system to counter the corruption of a trash tabloid media. But the problem is the solution just re-informed the underlying problem: the UK information market refuses to become more transparent and governed in the face of global standard and global competition. Rather Britain has reacted in line with the traditions of Class and Power that structure her culture. The super-injunctions were an effort to stand up for privacy, but they were an effort only the super rich could afford. For 99.9% of English society could never afford such protection. Therefore in a culture where privacy is being torn apart the Hight Courts turned privacy in to a luxury, a luxury to be consumed by the super rich. They could afford to get almost any fact about themselves declared no-existent by a court order. The rest of the nation lived under 24/7 spaying.

But the story does not end there. Something happened on the social network twitter. 10,000s of users voted against this kind of approach to privacy by posting the name on twitter. Within a few days almost everyone who cared in England knew that the case concerned Ryan Giggs.

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