Can Ned RocknRoll's facebook pictures really be called "private"?

Cat's already out of the bag.

Pictures of Ned RocknRoll taken at a private party were on Facebook for two and half years for all the world - and particularly James Pope’s 1,500 Facebook "friends" - to see. I understand that The Sun found them on a trawl of publicly-viewable Facebook pages. So how can they possibly now be considered private?

To find out we must await publication of Mr Justice Briggs’ reasoning, expected in nine days’ time, for his decision yesterday to uphold an interim privacy injunction first granted last week.

The Sun has paid the price for going to RocknRoll in advance of publication for a comment on 2 January.

The result was for Pope to take the photos down and for RocknRoll, after previously apparently voicing no objection to them being visible to anyone with a computer and the inclination to search for them, has deemed them to be private.

The Sun argued that they were in the public interest because RocknRoll was a public figure after marrying the actress Kate Winslet and because he had sold photographs of a previous wedding to Hello! Magazine.

To take a proper view on whether publication is in the public interest one would need to know exactly what it was RocknRoll was doing that he is now so keen to hide.

But it seems to me that in this case the public interest argument is probably a bit thin and in any case irrelevent.

Newspapers and broadcasters regularly publish all manner of material which cannot remotely be said to fulfil any legal definition of the ‘public interest’. They would be very dry publications and news programmes if they purely confined themselves to material which was deemed to serve some public good.

So the question with Ned RocknRoll isn’t whether publication was in the public interest, but whether the pics constituted a breach of his privacy.

After being viewed by up to 1,500 Facebook "friends", and many more people on the wider internet besides, I would argue that the cat was out of the bag on that one and privacy doesn’t come into it.

Copyright is another question, not the subject of last week’s injunction.

But it is worth noting that when you publish a photograph on a publicly-viewable Facebook page – Facebook’s own terms and conditions are  very clear in warning that you are making it public property.

They state: “When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).”

This case isn't going to become a touchstone for press freedom. As far as I'm concerned RocknRoll could have daubed himself in pigs' blood and proclaimed his eternal loyalty to Satan at that fancy dress party two years ago and it would be his own affair and nothing to do with me (he didn't, I'm just making a point).

But once pictures have been viewed more than a thousand times online without complaint, can they really still be considered "private"?

This blog first appeared on Press Gazette

Ned RocknRoll recently marries Kate Winslet. Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.