Ruling

01513-16 Dunn-Shaw v Kent Online

    • Date complaint received

      14th July 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01513-16 Dunn-Shaw v Kent Online 

Summary of Complaint

1.    Jason Dunn-Shaw complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Kent Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in relation to the information it held on his visitor account for its website.

2.    On 27 February, the Daily Mail published an article alleging that the complainant’s account on a local newspaper website had been used to criticise comments left by other users on two news articles. The two news articles in question were published on Kent Online.

3.    The earlier Kent Online article reported court proceedings in which the complainant had presided in his capacity as a recorder, and had suspended the prison sentence of a woman who had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving. On this article, “Querelle” had defended the complainant’s sentencing decision, which others had commented was too lenient. One individual commented that “querelle, if you are related or a friend [of the defendant] just say so because otherwise your remarks are beyond comprehension”. “Querelle” responded to this comment by saying that he had “no connection of any kind”.

4.    The later Kent Online article reported proceedings in which the complainant had acted as counsel for the defence. On this article, “Querelle” had also commented in support of the judge’s sentencing decision, which again, others had commented was too lenient.  In the comments thread on this article, "Querelle" explained that he had watched the court proceedings. Others had left comments speculating that “Querelle” was the defendant, or had a connection to the defendant.

5.    The Daily Mail article reported that the complainant had said that he had not made these comments, and that they had probably been made by his partner, who also used the same account to post comments on Kent Online content. 

6.    The complainant said that he had set up the user account on Kent Online’s website by providing his email address, name and other personal details.  He said that the account had been set up so that comments were made under the pseudonym “Querelle”. The complainant said that in order for the Daily Mail to have identified that this was his account, they must have accessed information Kent Online held on the account. The complainant said that for this reason, he believed that Kent Online had disclosed the fact that he operated the account to the Daily Mail. The complainant said that the disclosure of this information represented an intrusion into his privacy.

7.    The publication denied that it had revealed the identity of the individual who had set up the “Querelle” user account. It said that it did not know how the Daily Mail had identified him as the owner of the account. Nevertheless, it said that if an individual had been suspicious of the comments left by “Querelle” on the basis of detailed knowledge of the proceedings in question, this individual could enter the word “Querelle” into a search engine, along with the names of those involved in the proceedings. By doing so, the individual would find that the complainant’s name is openly linked to another internet profile under the name “Querelle” on a different website.

8.    The complainant said that the first journalist to identify that “Querelle” was his account was a reporter from Kent Online. He said that the comments left by “Querelle” did not demonstrate detailed knowledge of the proceedings other than those disclosed in open court. In relation to the fact that the name “Querelle” is linked to his name on another internet forum, the complainant said that this information is only revealed when both his name and “Querelle” are searched together. The complainant said that only an individual that already knew the connection between his name and “Querelle” could use a search engine to find evidence for the connection on another internet forum.

Relevant Code Provisions

9.    Clause 2 (Privacy)

i)    Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii)   Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information 

Findings of the Committee 

10.  “Querelle” had commented extensively on two articles reporting proceedings at Canterbury Crown Court in which the complainant had been involved. On the earlier article, one individual invited “Querelle” to state whether he was related to, or friends, with the defendant. On the later article, others had speculated that “Querelle” was the defendant, or had a connection to the defendant. 

11.  The word “Querelle” and the complainant’s name were publicly linked on the internet via his account on the internet forum. This information could be obtained by searching the word “Querelle” alongside the complainant’s name. It followed that an individual seeking to identify “Querelle”, and suspecting that the account may be operated by the complainant, could confirm that this was the case via a simple internet search. In these circumstances, the Committee did not establish that the publication had disclosed to a third party the information it held on the complainant’s user account. There was no breach of Clause 2 (Privacy).

Conclusions 

12.  The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A

Date complaint received: 06/03/2016

   Date decision issued: 28/06/2016