Justice and the Internet

pic from Flickr user 'Brymo'

pic from Flickr user 'Brymo'

Earlier today I played the game that is taking the nation by storm – “is there a Nazi in my neighbourhood?”. Apparently there is, and he lives a short walk away from my front door. You learn something new and fairly disturbing every day.

I found this out using the list of British National Party members, including their home addresses and phone numbers, which was leaked onto the internet this week by former affiliates. I will not link to it from the blog, but suffice to say it is out there and easy to find. As poisonous as I feel the views of his party are though – and this is the first and last time I will ever say this – I have to agree with the view of BNP leader Nick Griffin on this one:

“[The list] was entirely wrongly used without authority by a very small group of previous party members who were expelled late last year who then passed it on, to who we simply don’t know. All we can say is that if we find out who it was and they are one of those covered by the High Court injunction, then they are going to prison.”

Many would say there is a case for this information to be available in the public interest, but this argument cannot be sustained. Whether we like it or not, as things stand the BNP is a valid political party under British law and its members are entitled to privacy and free speech. It would be a terrible thing if the houses of BNP members were targeted as a result of the leak – not least because it might lead to a windfall in sympathy and support for the party. It is down to the rest of the British public to undermine and marginalise the obtuse politics of the BNP through rational debate, rather than through more sinister direct action.

This incident has exposed the ugly side of the internet. The world wide web is a wonderful thing, but the speed at which information can travel on it and the distance it can cover is pretty frightening. It is hard for the real world to keep up, and this has significant ramifications. BNP party spokesman Simon Darby contacted the company who hosted the original blog post of the list and warned them of what might happen if they did not take it down. This is fair enough, but now the list is out there in cyberspace, can the BNP chase it round forever? I somehow doubt it. In an ‘I am Spartacus’ manner, the list will keep on popping up on sites willing to take the gamble. By now it will also have been saved to countless hard-drives and printed off numerous times.

In his lecture to JOMEC students yesterday, Shane Richmond – Communities Editor for the Telegraph website – touched on this point. He said that the notion of contempt of court, which seeks to preserve the integrity of court proceedings especially with regards to neutrality of the jury, is being threatened in the internet age. As an example, he used the Baby P case where the names of the child’s mother and her boyfriend are being kept out of the press for legal reasons. However, the press and the internet are not the same thing. Like the BNP list, the names of those charged with causing the death of Baby P are a few clicks (or a text) away.

In both of these examples, the world wide mob is flouting the law and getting away with it. Clearly, it is necessary to realise a fresh conception of justice for the online era and update old laws, or at least enforce them in new ways. It would be a real crime to do nothing and let improper disclosures like these continue.

Is it fair to compare the BNP to the Nazis? You decide! Here is a video of their leader Nick Griffin, pictured here in a fetching little ‘White Power’ number, doing what he does best – denying the holocaust. Mark Collett, the current director of publicity of the BNP, featured in this snappily-titled Channel 4 documentary. The BNP have some lovely friends too.

~ by seanbradbury on November 21, 2008.

3 Responses to “Justice and the Internet”

  1. Godd article Mr Bradbury, engaging turn of phrase and lovely pace. You avoided well the easy option of BNP bashing and instead produced something which a much more balanced focus. Of course as someone literate you will find the BNP repugnant but they could have little grounds for complaint with your address. Keep them coming

    James, Liverpool

  2. Enjoyed the blog, Sean. Very well written and interesting. I never knew all of the information that you put in your footnote, and it was an interesting read. They certainly seem to be a lot extreme and Nazi-orientated in their beliefs than would be suggested by the public persona that they have created for themselves.

  3. […] response to the leaked BNP membership list (my erstwhile colleague Sean expands on this on his own blog) which showed that people from all over Britain and from a broad range of professions signed up to […]

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