Superinjunctions

This is a complete off-topic post, but something has happened in the UK that I found exceedingly interesting. For those not in the know, what we call superinjunction over here is a court order to not only be quiet about a certain topic (this would be a simple injunction) but also to be quiet about that the injunction exists, and to be quiet about the fact that one has to be quiet that the injunction exists etc ad infinitum.

Now firstly of course an interesting question that arises: if everything is so secret, how are people kept from accidentilly breaking the injunction? The answer is that de facto this order is targeted at the large UK media outlets, and I suppose that they all have someone to ensure that all superinjunctions currently active are complied with. Also, those injunctions are partially public: they tend to identify one side of the equation (eg, the mistress), and characterise the other other side (eg, a “married, premier league footballer”). This of course leaves gaping holes, for example the non-UK media, and the blogosphere, including Twitter can not really be policed. Also, the aforementioned information contained in the injunction might in itself stoke the interest in the topic. So it seems that in many cases everyone with access to the Internet and the willingness to spend a few minutes on Google can find out the backstory.

Those superinjunctions are controversial. One of the major complaints is that they severely restrict free speech, and also that they are inherently unfair in the sense that they only serve the rich (they are estimated to cost between £50-100,000) and that they are to the detriment of the comparatively poor (the “other side” of the injunction who is identified in the official court documents). And of course, if I was a UK media outlet specialised on those kind of stories I would certainly not like that Twitter, blogs, and foreign media essentially ate my lunch.

So what would discredit the whole process, all in the eye of the public, the law-makers, and – last but not least – for those pondering whether or not to take out an injunction? Clearly, making everyone who took out such injunction front-page news would probably be a deterrent for the latter, but of course this is illegal. It most likely is even illegal to refer to any of the blogs (or tweeps) that might have outed the “super-injunctors”. Potentially even disclosing that such sources exist might be considered illegal under those injunctions-on-steroids – there is after all no real need-to-know in the general public of this particular fact, and it could be argued that the main reason for disclosing this information was to circumvent the injunction.

This situation of course changes if the blogger (or tweep, as the case may be) outing the super-injunctors gets the story wrong. For example, let us assume the hypothetical case that this blogger mainly outs the right people, but erroneously also “outs” an alleged super-injunction that does not exist in reality, and that is related to a well-known person. Let us further imagine that this person in turn gets all upset, and goes on the record to set the story straight – he (or she, as the case may be) has never taken out an injunction, the underlying allegation is b+llocks, etc pp.

Now this IS news – it is noteworthy, it is supporting the celebrity who has been wrongfully “outed”, and last but not least, there is by definition no injunction in relation to this person. And suddenly the fact that someone has seemingly outed a few alleged injunctors (and got it wrong on at least one of them) becomes part of the back story and can therefore be freely reported, even in the media covered by the injunction.

It is then of course possible that readers will turn to Google to fill the gaps. If enough of them do it, then Google’s predictive search feature might even associate the names of the alleged injunctors with those of the well known injunctees. Whilst this would be bad enough for those wrongly outed who might take a while to clear their name, it might be a catastrophe for those who have been rightly identified – they indirectly made front page news after all, and they cant really defend themselves in public due to the injunction being in place.

Chances are that after this many people might reconsider whether super injunctions are a good idea after all. Which is of course great news for all those who did not like the process from the very beginning…

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