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
Show Hide image

I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.