In the public interest

How do you ensure that whistleblowers and people who release information which ought to get out cannot be convicted under laws designed to catch spies, thieves, or those whose activities are a genuine threat to national security?

Most civilised countries square this circle by qualifying the laws against people who leak or publish sensitive information with a public interest defence.

E.g. if you are "Wikileaks" and you publish secret information, but bringing that information into the public domain may cause criminals in high places to be caught, cause a policy which genuninely needs scrutiny to receive it, or otherwise be in the public interest, you can use this in your defense.

On the other hand, if you publish stolen information, especially if this may put innocent lives at risk, and cannot point to such a corresponding benefit, you can and should be successfully prosecuted.

I've been following the "Wikileaks" debate with some interest. One or two of the nuggets among the vast amount of material published might well be argued by a reasonable person to demonstrate a "public interest defence"

A much larger amount generates a "Tell me something I don't know" reaction.

So Prime Minister Putin is the "Alpha Dog" in Russia? What a surprise.

The Italian PM likes a good party? You don't say.

Some US diplomats didn't like Gordon Brown ? Neither did millions of Brits, apparently including quite a few of his own cabinet.

Prince Andrew occasionally makes tactless comments? His dad's been doing that for 40 years and it hasn't brought down the monarchy yet.

Unfortunately there are also more than a few items which would appear to potentially put lives at risk. Publicising the private comments of those Arab leaders who appear to have urged the USA to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons could potentially have caused trouble in those countries and made war more likely. And the lives of innocent people could quite possibly have been put at risk by the leaking of comments which might cause the Iranian security services - or mobs - to think they had identified people who had given information to the US, which they might regard as treason.

Has Wikileaks made the world a safer place? If they had been vastly more selective about the information they released, they might have. As it is, there is a strong case that they have made the world more dangerous.


Anonymous said…
Not in Britain we dont.
Section 49 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 has no such qualification of a public interest defence.
Distict Auditor's can thereby threaten concerned members of the public and use it as a sheild to hide Council's and their own corrupt actions.
Chris Whiteside said…
Other legislation does provide for the possibility of a "public interest" defence.

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