Written by Civil Liberties, Politics

To Publish Or Not To Publish?

A simple one first of all. It seems that the names of the people allegedly responsible for the death of Baby P are being passed around quite freely via electronic media. But for legal reasons, they’ve not been named publicly in the mainstream media.
It can obviously lead to a lynch-mob mentality that says that we should all go around their houses and… well… probably nothing, since they’ve been found guilty and will be sentenced accordingly. That’s a fairly cut and dried case. At this point, the law of the land will take its course.
But then there’s the case of the BNP membership list. As everyone knows, a version of it has been leaked, and the details contained are pretty full with names, complete addresses with postcodes, phone numbers, email addresses and even additional notes accompanying these details. The fallout has begun with a stand-in talkSPORT DJ no longer being employed by the station and at least one policeman facing possible sanctions (the police force made it illegal to be a member of the BNP because it’s at odds with their race relations) [UPDATE – The DJ concerned says he joined for research purposes]. Others are likely to suffer repercussions following this publication.
The leak is clearly a breach of data protection, and although our otherwise dreadful Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is fair in asking “I wonder why it is that BNP members are rather more ashamed of their membership [than I am]?” those individuals are entitled to their privacy while the BNP remains a legal political party.
At this point I should probably make clear that I find the BNP utterly abhorent and their beliefs are completely at odds with my own. But we live in a democracy, so the BNP is allowed to exist.
Yet I still feel uncomfortable about it all. Various mashup Google maps have appeared (and disappeared) plotting the data so that you too can see if there’s a racist in your street, and I’ll freely admit that I’ve checked out my neighbourhood, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
In the US there are sex-offenders’ registers, and that’s been mooted over here – a parent wants to know if a convicted paedophile lives near them or their child’s school. The argument against it is that once News of the World readers have been around to smash all their windows and set fire to their house, they go “off the radar” and nobody is able to keep track of them – least of all the authorities.
Perhaps there’s something to be said for all political party affiliations to be made public? But I’m not so sure. It feels at odds with the civil liberties we’ve been handed down since Magna Carta (More on this soon in another entry).
So while it all seems a fun game to ‘out the local racists,’ does it really help in the long term?
And would I be happy if someone published a similar list of gay, Jewish or disabled people? (I’m in no way likening them to BNP members, but they’re lists that, if they existed, could easily be misused).
So no, I wouldn’t be happy. And frankly, I don’t want the Government doing it either with their ID card (or big database as it really is).