A closer look at injunctions in the age of the Internet
99% of the time I couldn't care less about which celebrity had sex and with whom, yet I found myself asking "who is the threesome celeb?" in a meeting earlier this week. There's something about being told that I'm not allowed to know that makes me want to know. This is the primary reason I believe injunctions - super or otherwise - are utter BS. Curiosity will always win out in today's world.
I don't know if you know who the threesome celebrity is, but I guarantee that you will not care once you find out. The case has been doing the rounds this week; should the papers in the UK be allowed to publish the name of the celebrity who had a threesome? The back and forth over the injunction has gained more attention than the actual case would have, had the name been printed a week ago. I can tell you now; I would not be writing about it had that happened.
People have sex. Some people cheat. Some people are famous. Some famous people cheat by having sex. Shock. Horror. Snore.
The reason I'm writing about this case is because I now wonder about the power of a court ruling in the age of the Internet. UK publications are prohibited from publishing the name of the celebrity - even though US publications can do so. I found out within 5 seconds of asking about it in a meeting. I then searched it on social media and found it again within 10 seconds.
So what's the point and how did we get here?
The term "super-injunction" was first printed in a piss-take column by Tim Dowling in The Guardian, back in 2002:
"A class-action 'super-injunction' on behalf of Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez, Victoria Beckham, Julia Roberts, Michael Jackson, et al, against everyone they have ever met, will be suspended pending a European Court ruling on whether or not celebrities have souls. Campaigners for 'Naomi's Law' are considering an appeal."
Seven years later the term appeared in the paper once again, this time following a real news story. Editor, Alan Rustridger said:
"It is time that judges stopped granting 'super-injunctions' which are so absolute and wide ranging that nothing about them can be reported at all".
Let's break it down for a second; you may wonder what exactly is a super-injunction? A report issued by the Masters of the Rolls' committee in May 2011 defined it as "an interim injunction which restrains a person from (i) publishing information which concerns an applicant and is said to be confidential or private; and (ii) publicising or informing others of the existence of the order and the proceedings."
That's clearly going well for the parties involved in this case.
One of the most high-profile examples of an injunction - of the super variety - involved footballer Ryan Giggs and model Imogen Thomas. They had sex / a relationship / an affair. This occurred around the same time that Judges in the UK admitted that bloggers and users of social networking sites such as Twitter would not necessarily be covered by an injunction. It's bound to end well, right?
Giggs took legal action to "obtain limited information concerning the unlawful use of Twitter by a small number of individuals who may have breached a court order".
Later, that same month, UK Prime Minister David Cameron described the privacy ruling affecting newspapers as "unsustainable" and "unfair" on the press. He stated that he knew the identity of the footballer at the centre of the row "like everybody else". This right-hook to the injunction taken out by Giggs was then followed by Lib Dem MP John Hemming using Parliamentary privilege to name the footballer.
The following day, publicist for Ms Thomas, Max Clifford stated that he believed the relationship may not have made the headlines if Giggs had not taken out the gagging order to protect his privacy.
One year later Ryan Giggs gave up all rights to anonymity in the High Court over the affair.
And now we're here.
It would appear that it's easier to catch protected, famous people playing the field than it is to catch those breaking a super injunction. This is worrying. While very few people care about the celebrities and their sex lives, one has to wonder what the future holds if a court order can be overruled by a ballsy person online.
There has been an awful lot of talk about privacy, encryption and injunctions in recent times - but does any of that actually matter? All it takes is one tech-savvy person and an ill-will to undo anything, in a heartbeat.
Could these celebrity cases be deemed a waste of court time? Could we politely suggest that those who don't want their dirty laundry aired in public refrain from playing away from home? Could we use this as an opportunity to look at the future of policing, protection and privacy?
I would say the most likely of those three options to actually happen would be the third. We need to work out how to police the Internet. I'm a fan of technology. I love what the Internet has to offer. That being said, however, the notion that "anything goes" scares me. It needs to be managed and monitored.
How we do that though, is honestly beyond me.