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FREE SPEECH CAMPAIGN AT SALFORD UNIVERSITY
 

Star date: 24th December 2010

CHARTER GROUP 2011 LAUNCHES TO CAMPAIGN FOR FREE SPEECH AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SALFORD 

Following this week's court case between the University of Salford and Dr Gary Duke, a new free speech campaign is launching in the new year.

This follows revelations at the court hearing that the University had sought to get details of all bloggers and contributors to a satirical web site lampooning University bosses. The University has been accused of seeking `to silence its critics'.

Full details here…


CHARTER GROUP 2011 – `CAMPAIGN FOR FREE SPEECH AT UNIVERSITY OF SALFORD'

Following the ongoing court libel case between the University of Salford and Dr Gary Duke (see here for details), the University has been accused of seeking `to silence its critics' and putting the rights of free speech and privacy `in dire jeopardy'.

Salford University has claimed that the satirical blog site, Rat Catchers of the Sewers, contained defamatory comments, and has been to court twice in attempts to find the identity of those responsible.

However, according to a press release issued by Charter Group 2011, Salford University "had not just sought details of alleged defamatory bloggers but had `required' details of all bloggers, contributors and anyone who had posted to the Ratcatchers web site.

"It was not denied by the University that some contributions were not defamatory. Why then would the University demand or require the web site to provide details of all contributors to the blog including those who had posted comments?" the release asks "Dr Duke's representative suggested a possible reason to the Court - the University wanted to silence all its critics, whether defamatory or non defamatory. That no one in Court denied or demurred from this proposition adds to its accuracy and truthfulness."

The University had gone to court seeking an Order that Virgin should reveal personal details of IP addresses for the Ratcatchers site that had previously been handed over by the site's hosts, WordPress. 

The press release continues… "It was put to the Court that the University could use these IP addresses to victimise legitimate critics of the University. The Court said that if this happened, victims would have recourse to the law. It was put to the Court that by this time it would be too late as people would have been victimised. It cannot be said the Court agreed this would happen but it did not dissent from this proposition."

The campaign group is also highly critical of Californian worldwide blog host, WordPress, which handed over details of IP addresses of Ratcatchers' contributors. No-one who uses a WordPress blog site can now rely on anonymity, it claims.

"Contrary to the right of Free Speech enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, California State Privacy laws, and contrary to its own published Privacy Policy, Wordpress handed over a comprehensive list of IP addresses and other details to the University without a Court Order either from a UK or US Court (a UK Court Order carries no authority by itself in the US).

"Wordpress continue to maintain that there was a Court order, but as of today's date despite being asked by Dr Duke to produce copy of said Order requiring them to hand over the IP Addresses and other information, they have failed to do so. Indeed Judge Smith during yesterday's hearing stated again that no Court Order had been produced by the Court."

The press release adds: "If individuals cannot comment critically anonymously there can be no free speech, as critical comments may in some circumstances incur victimisation of the critic by the criticised, as can happen between employer and employee, state and dissident…" although "The right of free speech does not include the right of anonymity to defame."

The group believes that the consequence of all this means that not only has "the right to anonymous non defamatory criticism of the University of Salford has been declared null and void" but also the "right to free speech has been severely curtailed in the UK".

CHARTER GROUP 2011: CAMPAIGN FOR FREE SPEECH AT UNIVERSITY OF SALFORD will launch with a public meeting in February. Details to follow…

Nepappoirehog wrote
at 05:39:33 on 09 January 2011
waiting for next post
 
Bore Locks wrote
at 14:28:41 on 30 December 2010
@Eric Longley - the University's draft order, with which you take issue, was never approved by the court. If it was incorrectly drafted, this was an issue for the Judge to address and not the University. Wordpress complied with the request voluntarily, and so if you want to take issue with excessive disclosure then surely you should direct your ire across the pond? As to the morality of the information sought, it could be argued that anybody who had the administrative capacity to 'post' to the Rat Catchers blog was - under the terms of the Defamation Act 1996 - an 'Editor', and thus liable in any subsequent civil proceedings. Or, to put it another way, there might well have been a coherent legal argument to support the acquisition of the information sought, but this was never tested by the Court as Wordpress evidently agreed with the University. There is no equivalence between an ex-Directory telephone number and an IP address: the latter cannot be used to contact you or identify you, and it is in fact meaningless unless a court order is granted to acquire any associated user account data. Certainly nobody can "route around in [my] email inbox" as you imply - this is sheer fantasy. As to your final point, the last thing that strikes me about 'Charter 2011' is that it is organised. @Robyn Hancock - You ask why did not the University return the data they were not seeking to utilise in any civil action brought? There are several obvious answers: at the time of the hearing it was still not clear which IP addresses corresponded to the authors of the defamatory statements (assuming they do transpire to be defamatory), and until this was clarified all the data might well have been required; the information was provided in the form of an affadavit which is now an official court document, and thus suggesting the University should somehow destroy the superfluous data or return it or redact it is totally impracticable and, as such, pretty stupid. As to your final point - I repeat, an IP address by itself is not ordinarily personally identifying. Those who posted any comments on University PCs might well be traceable - but then the question must then be asked, what right have staff to use University equipment to criticise their senior managerial colleagues? That sort of behaviour - if it is indeed legitimate - should be saved for the home and not for the work place.
 
Robyn Hancock wrote
at 17:24:32 on 29 December 2010
Mr Locks needs to read the above article carefully before he comments. Moreover, from his first paragraph, I note that he may benefit from a refresher course in GCSE mathematics. It was made very clear in Court by the Defendant that the University of Salford sought from Wordpress an extensive list of IP addresses and received the same from Wordpress. From my own notes taken on the day, Wordpress supplied these to the University without an official UK or US Court Order. Mr Langley who spoke on behalf of Duke asked that the Court require the University to dispose of all IP addresses that the University held in their possession that were not subject to the Court Order being sought for disclosure from Virgin. The Court decided that it was outside its remit. This however did not stop the University of Salford solicitor Mr Austin from voluntarily stating that all other records of IP addresses (those that did not correlate to arguably defamatory commentary on the Rat Catchers blog)supplied by Wordpress, would be returned to Worpress or handed to the Court to be disposed of. This they did not do. The question is why not? Locks is correct when he/she says that the University could possibly identify IP addresses that originated within the University of anyone who may have posted 'critical commentary'. What does this say about an establishment that is meant to promote critical thought and commentary? This will undoubtedly have a 'chilling effect' on those who wish to comment critically about the University. It is rather naive to assert as does Locks, that "no rights have been impinged." From my understanding, the University demanded from Wordpress, personally identifying information such as IP addresses of anyone who posted to the site, This went beyond that which was necessary for the prosecution of a case for libel. This is hugely significant and may possibly be in breach of UK Data Protection Laws. But what about the right to privacy and the right of the individual to expect that Wordpress would guarantee the Privacy Rights of those who posted comments and commentary on a US blog that is after all hosted in the US? This is not an issue that pivots simply upon a strict definition of legal rights, but one that centres on wider issues of human and civil rights. Readers of Salford Star and beyond will draw their own conclusions from the University's actions.
 
Eric Longley wrote
at 17:24:24 on 29 December 2010
The University of Salford(UoS)demanded (required) the details of all IP addresses from WordPress the web site hosting the alleged defamatory comments. They did not demand just the IP addressess of the alleged defamers but details of all contributors. For what purpose would UoS demand details of all contributors including those where defamation was not alleged? I can think of only two reasons; One the UoS wants to silence its legitimate critics even where there is no allegation of defamation or secondly the solicitors made an error in demanding something they knew they could not force by reason of law. I would be interested in other plausible reasons if Locks has them, I would even more interested to hear from the UoS. The UoS could have responded to the issue in Court, indeed the Court were asked to issue a witness order for one of the UoS witnesses to attend but regretably the request was only read by the Judge the day before the hearing and as such even though the request had been made timeously and notified to UoS the witness was not required to give evidence. I have since spoken to someone more conversant with the internet than myself and my understanding is that a proficient expert armed with an IP address can gather all sorts of personal information even where a dynamic IP address is being used. I am told it may take time but information could be extracted. Now I do not suggest, allude, infer or signal in any way either directly or indirectly that UoS would do such a thing. THe UoS made it clear in its wtiness statements that the Registrar, the VC and the previous VC are all honourable men and do not break the law or the UoS rules. But being honourable men can they not see that the removal of the non contentious IP addressess from the UoS make us all a little easier about this matter? Locks views as to the infringement of rights misses the mark. If my ex directory telephone number is made available to members of the public does that not infringe my right to privacy? Do you really want unwanted phone calls and someone else rooting around in your email box? More importantly if there is even a chance that my right to freedom of speech is imperilled by underming the right to anonymity does that not cause a chill amongst those who prize the right to free speech? Of course as honourable men the Registrar, the VC and the previous VC will undoubtedly agree with this proposition would they not? I return to the point made in Court, for what reason did the UoS require the details of contributors where no defamation was alleged? In my view the UoS actions serve to undermine the right to free speech guaranteed by the Human Rights Act 1998 and by the Charter of the UoS. The UoS had opportunity to explain in Court but refrained from doing so, there is nothing dishonourable in that although it leaves me wondering how open the UoS is about itself and still leaves the nagging question of why did it require details of all contributors. The right of free speech not only includes the right of anonymity but also the right to information. Where a public body regularly denies the provision of information as evidenced by the CIO details presented in the court hearing, where a public body requires details of all critics even those where no allegation of defamation is made, where a public body refrains from explaining its actions then I begin to question how honourable some its members are. More importantly I see that that there is clear and present danger in the UoS actions to the rule of free speech. We can all right about this saying how awful it or we can organise. Charater 2011 is about organisation, about drawing back the secretive curtains and making sure free speech is a real concrete practical right not hedged with contingency or threat. No one should feel that they are constrained from critising the UoS by fear of victimisation and the UoS should not fear open critical debate unless it does have something to hide?
 
Salford Star wrote
at 20:25:30 on 24 December 2010
See Outraged comment below... No, it's not dishonest on the part of Charter 2011 - just a generic Salford Star shot from the past fight against the cuts at Salford University from where all this sprang. Nowt to do with Charter 2011 - but free speech and protest. Perhaps that's something you don't agree with any more.
 
Outraged wrote
at 20:21:46 on 24 December 2010
I am in this picture. It is several years old. I am not a member of this supposed Charter 2011 as implied by its publication. Who then is this suppposed support group? This proves to me that Duke and his cronies are entirely dishonest!
 
Bore Locks wrote
at 16:52:15 on 24 December 2010
First of all - has the University been approached for comment? Second of all - who on earth are Charter Group 2011? And isn't the '2011' bit jumping the gun slightly? Third of all, I would very strongly advise that this article be amended. District Judge Smith was very clear on Tuesday that he would not grant an order which sought the user account details of anybody except those who had authored the statements complained of. It is not possible to 'victimise' anybody unless you can corroborate an IP address with a user account. For private user accounts, this is not possible without a court order (which has not been granted for merely 'critical' comments). For University IPs, it would be possible for Salford to identify the authors of critical commentary without a court order and it would also be possible to punish them under internal disciplinary proceedings. However, your article has not cited any evidence about whether University IP addresses have been disclosed. Without the above, no rights have been impinged.
 
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