Jamie Grace wrote this article.

As our society shapes itself around speedier and speedier flows of information – some of it useful, some of it not, much of it with only entertainment value – it could be that our legal frameworks, both sides of the Atlantic, will see developments that entail a ‘democratisation’ of democracy itself.

In the UK this week the Times Higher Education magazine has
published two book reviews that provide a great insight into the way
privacy theory is developing along with the law of online (or
otherwise published) defamation.

The work Why Democracies Need An Unlovable Press sees the
author, Michael Schudson, outline a theory of how good online
journalism can transform participative democracy even in the face of a
growing panopticonic culture in society.

In the words of the reviewer,
Tim Luckhurst, “[the author’s] six primary functions for journalism in
a democracy – information, investigation, analysis, social empathy,
provision of a public forum and service as an advocate of political
programmes – should be taught and debated by all ambitious students and
teachers of journalism. [The author’s] seventh, the duty to publicise
and promote representative democracy, is an important step forward from
the foundation-level ideal that reporting should simply facilitate the
free exchange of ideas.”

In the same issue of the THE this week a book by Daniel J. Solove: The Future of Reputation: Gossip Rumour & Privacy on the Internet. Steven Poole of The Guardian
describes how Solove believes our right to privacy can be best
protected and promulgated by a limiting of the information our social
networking sites can put out into the world about us; i.e. make them
more responsible for the information they ‘demand’ we share.

Court decisions in the UK, most notably including the rulings in Campbell, Douglas, and Mosley see
us better protected from the sections of the press who might seek to
profit from unfair intrusions into our personal lives. This growing
doctrine of privacy is our shield against at least some of the
panopticonic measures of the State; being able to utilise
freedom-of-speech and new technologies and the Internet to communicate
and debate is our ‘sword’.

We can only hope that the digital divide’ will lessen and that only
comment will grow into a national and international habit that will
foster better understanding between groups of society. If the State
observes this activity – so what? It is to be the ‘democratisation’ of
the Panopticon – we are all observed, if we all engage in the
Information Age, at least we’re all in it together.

The UK government will, most likely in February 2009, release a
‘Digital Britain’ green paper – what impact will this have?

The report
itself has been delayed
as it an economic analysis of the digitally-driven knowledge economy’
in Britain – no doubt due to substantial re-writes caused by shifting
financial sands in the sector during the onset of a recession.


  1. I’m glad there’s a sense of discussion in the UK, Jamie. It seems in the USA that we just have to take the invasion and there’s no need to discuss the matter.

  2. What concerns me most about our debate here in Britain though David is the tendency of the public-sector watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, to focus selectively on issues of information and surveillance risk e.g. it will commission a report criticising ‘dataveillance’ in society; but fail to highlight the risks of the Government’s own moves to increase spending and dependence on fairly risky ‘database-driven’ e-governance.

  3. I think that’s a fair and meaningful concern, Jamie.
    In the USA we’re currently dealing with FISA ramifications and the automatic data collection of every single thing that flows through the internet. I don’t think that sort of catch-all surveilling is appropriate because it’s too easy for the unprovoked utterance to be given too much weight in the system for flagging.

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