Hunt: New regulation needed on privacy and Twitter

Twitter is “making a mockery” of privacy laws, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said today as he pledged to examine how best to bring regulations up to date.

He said it was “crazy” that information that was not allowed to be printed in newspapers was widely available via the microblogging site and other internet sources.

One Twitter user set up an account claiming to expose celebrities who have obtained injunctions to prevent media reporting of their private lives.

It attracted thousands of followers and the contents were widely discussed online amid growing disquiet about celebrities’ use of injunctions to prevent stories emerging.

Special focus has been given to the granting of so-called “super-injunctions” whose very existence cannot be reported.

“We are in this crazy situation where information is available freely online which you are not able to print in newspapers,” Hunt told journalists at a Westminster lunch.

“Technology, and Twitter in particular, is making a mockery of the privacy laws that we have and we do need to think about the regulatory environment that we have.

“Whatever the law tries to do on privacy, the internet is a very powerful force that you can’t buck so we do need to look at it.”

He said he was due to sit down with Justice Secretary Ken Clarke to “see what can be done” about super-injunctions and the wider question of privacy.

Passing a new privacy law would be a massive parliamentary undertaking and it was important to examine the alternatives, he said.

“We need to get into a situation where regulation and legislation is up to speed with changes in technology and that we get the balance right between the rights of an individual and the rights we all cherish for freedom of expression.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I think judges are saying, look, there is a European Convention of Human Rights which we can use. And because Parliament has not discussed this enough, they feel they are filling a gap.

“I believe in free speech and a free press. But we need the right balance between privacy and freedom,” he told The Sun.

Cameron’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “It is about finding the right balance between individuals’ rights to privacy on the one hand and the rights to freedom of expression and transparency on the other.

“The Prime Minister has spoken about this recently. He said that he thinks there is a question about privacy and about the way the system works.

“He said that what is happening is that judges are using the European Court of Human Rights to deliver a privacy law without Parliament saying so, and he is a bit uneasy about what is happening.

“His position is that there is an issue here and it is one that we need to do some thinking about.”

Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger is expected to produce his report on the use of super-injunctions by the end of this month.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “Getting the balance right between freedom of speech and an individual’s right to privacy is important.

“Lord Neuberger’s report on super-injunctions may provide some solutions to their growing use, but the Government needs to show some leadership on this issue.

“The Government is about to publish a Justice Bill and has recently published a Draft Defamation Bill. There is therefore no excuse for inaction or delay on their part.”

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