U.K. Judge Who Probed News Says Internet Can Be Tamed

U.K. Justice Brian Leveson
U.K. Justice Brian Leveson. Photographer: Dan Kitwood/AFP/Getty Images

U.K. Justice Brian Leveson, who called for an independent regulator following a probe of News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal, said legal remedies are powerful enough, over time, to rein in Internet privacy breaches.

Leveson spoke today at a conference in Sydney in a discussion of whether Australia should adopt a privacy law to protect individuals from breaches on the Internet or the media.

A government-backed review of the media industry in Australia recommended in March the creation of a new regulator who would set journalistic standards. The government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard hasn’t responded to the report. Levenson’s 2,000 page, Nov. 29, study called for the formation of an independent media regulator in the U.K., backed by legislation, that could levy fines of as much as 1 million pounds ($1.6 million).

“Time and proper application of the law will play the same role for the Internet as it has done in all other areas of our lives,” Leveson said. “Just as it took time for the wilder excesses of the early penny press to be civilized, it will take time to civilize the Internet.”

Leveson had collected evidence for the report from newspaper owners, reporters and people who counted themselves as victims of bad behavior by U.K. media. He declined to discuss his findings.

“I treat the report as a judgment and judges simply do not enter into discussions about judgments they have given,” Leveson told the Sydney audience. “They do not respond to comment, however misconceived, neither do they seek to correct error. The judgment, or in this case the report, has to speak for itself.”

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U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has said that while he supports the principles of Leveson’s report, he believes new legislation isn’t needed.

News Corp. has spent more than $315 million on civil settlements, legal fees and costs of closing the weekly tabloid News of the World newspaper and more than 80 people have been arrested for intercepting voice mail and bribing public employees in pursuit of exclusive stories.

Leveson, in today’s speech, cited the use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as usurping newspapers in breaching people’s privacy, including discussions on the Internet of so-called superinjunctions in the U.K. Media reporting of the injunctions is banned.

People who breach court orders, including privacy injunctions, can be traced through their Internet address and should be prosecuted, Leveson said. Enforcement of current laws on defamation and privacy laws will eventually modulate people’s behavior, he said.

Newspapers can be held financially liable for ignoring a court order, while most people who publish on blogs or twitter don’t have a financial incentive to do so, Leveson said.

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