Attorney General v BBC [2022] EWHC 1189 (QB) – High Court considers what information can be made public about alleged MI5 CHIS

In a judgment handed down on 18 May 2022 the High Court has considered what information be BBC can publish in a story pertaining to the actions of a MI5 covet human intelligence source (“CHIS”).

The BBC alleged that X was a CHIS and had been psychologically and sexually abusive to two female partners.

The judgment can be found here: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2022/1189.html

The judgment is in two parts- one heard in public and the other in private. The private hearing was held to be necessary so that the Court could hear submissions about information that, if released to the public, would make the identity of the alleged CHIS known.

Mr Justice Chamberlian comments: “The court must be alert to the possibility of “jigsaw” identification. One piece of information may on its own seem innocuous, but when taken together with other information known to a particular malign actor, it may lead to the identification of an individual with greater or lesser confidence. The threat of jigsaw identification is a familiar feature of arguments against disclosure in closed material proceedings in the national security context. It is regularly deployed as a basis for refusing to disclose information known only from covert sources. But, although the court must be alive to the threat of jigsaw identification, it must also be astute not to allow the threat to justify a blanket prohibition on disclosure of any piece of the jigsaw.

at p.24

The BBC’s article on the case can be found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-61528286

The intial BBC coverage of this matter here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-61508520

And details of one of X’s former partners’ legal action to be taken against MI5 here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-61521569

Big Brother Watch publishes The State of Free Speech Online Report

Government surveillance interest group Big Brother Watch has released an insightful Report entitled: The State of Free Speech Online.

The Report looks at crucial provisions of the English Government’s proposed Online Safety Bill, critiquing its impact on freedom of speech.

The Report in particular focuses on social media platforms and the impact of the Bills provisions on their ability to facilitate free speech.

TPP supports free speech unequivocally, recognising that in a democratic society both rights of free speech and the protection of ones private life must be carefully balanced and safeguarded.

The recent move of Facebook in removing the publication of third parties Australian news from its site in protest to the provisions of the proposed News Media Bargaining Code, in doing so lobbying the Australian government, serves to highlight the unequal bargaining position of online platforms and their extensive influence.  

Furthermore, Twitter permanently suspending then US President Donald Trump highlighted the ability of a platform to  operate at the highest levels as arbiters of free speech.

It serves to bring into sharp relief the need for proper safeguards and guidelines of, as the Report states, private companies who “wield power… comparable to that of governments”.

As arbiters of free speech companies such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter hold substantive sway over millions of conversations where the rights of free speech and those of privacy intersect. This Report is a welcome examination of the coming reforms in the Online Safety Bill through a lens of safeguarding free speech.

It argues that enforcement of free speech rights have been “questionable, inconsistent and problematic” across the platforms. It goes on to opine that such platforms need to mirror the rule of law and reflect human rights principles.

As English law moves to take the next step in regulating the activities of those online via the Online Safety Bill TPP with be reporting focusing on both sides of the free speech and privacy debate.

Tackling hate speech- Intersecting approaches and the Raheem Stirling case

The case of footballer Raheem Stirling provides an avenue into the oft-overlooked issue of hate speech prevention and deterrence. The adequacy of English law in tackling hate speech, a nuanced and increasingly difficult to isolate issue.  This is due to an instance of hate speech having the potential to cover a wide variety of legal actions and regulations. This in and of itself can be problematic; actions may not quite fit the scenario to which they apply or require careful adherence and scrutiny to ensure a just outcome. Continue reading