In response to calls for legal reform, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke yesterday told MPS that he saw no case for the introduction of specific privacy laws to protect members of the public from the press.
This is despite ongoing revelations in the Leveson enquiry into media ethics and the outcry last year after the police investigation into phone hacking.
Giving evidence to the joint parliamentary Committee on Privacy and Injunctions Mr Clarke, a keen cigar smoker and jazz aficionado, said: “I don’t think we are very clear on what a statute would say.”
“No one has persuaded me that we really quite know what we [would be] introducing as a government if we introduced a privacy law. I couldn’t draft a law myself that I thought would be much use and I therefore don’t see the case for one.”
However, despite this he did acknowledge that the law as it stands presents problems for judges as some injunctions are almost impossible to enforce on the internet. This point has been made by some newspaper editors, and was perfectly illustrated last year when details of various super-injunctions were leaked anonymously onto social networking sites.
One suggestion for tackling such breaches is to make website providers responsible for the content displayed on their sites. This would mean that social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Bebo would become responsible for monitoring content online in real time.
“The internet moves so quickly one keeps having to examine what the responsibilities of the providers of the various platforms are, as opposed to the individuals who put things on those platforms. I do think we have to keep trying to keep up to speed with that,” he said.
One alternative to a new statute law regulating the press, would be a greater enforcement of the existing Editors’ Code of Practice, as suggested by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
“If Parliament is not going to impose a blueprint then we are very much looking for the industry to come up with a structure that gives us confidence that decisions about breaches of the Code will be made independently, fairly and impartially and that there is proper, credible, sanction-making power,” said Mr Hunt.
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