There's a well-known editor of a UK tabloid newspaper who is said to believe sex should take place exclusively in the missionary position. To speculate further about his approach to sex using the internet would be tasteless but arguably defensible. However most would agree it would be an outrage to film him doing it and then put the pictures up on the web. And it would be no less an outrage if in a moment of inspiration his sex life suddenly became more adventurous.
When I sued the News of the World for secretly filming my sexual activities and publishing the pictures, the judge quite rightly said the pictures should not have been taken, still less published and made an order that they should never be published again.
Unfortunately, by this time, a large number of individuals and other media organisations with a prurient interest in the sex lives of others had copied the pictures and published them on other internet sites, blogs and social media sites, in many different countries. As a result, when people put my name into Google the pictures appear. This is clearly wrong on two levels. First because it defies an order of the High Court, secondly because it is a gross invasion of privacy, just as it would be if I were to film the tabloid editor and post pictures of him having sex.
Stopping this has nothing to do with free speech or airbrushing history. No one is trying to suppress or conceal what happened or the extensive reports of the case that entered the public domain at the time. The judge did not order that there should be no further reporting of the case nor did we ask him to. It was in open court and his judgement even appears in the law reports. It is the pictures which should not be published.
When the pictures started to appear on Google searches, I asked them to stop this happening. They did not refuse. Each time we drew their attention to a site with the pictures, they took down the link - not always very quickly, but they took it down. The problem is that another picture would immediately appear in its place. I am not the only person to experience this. In a recent hearing in another case against Google the barrister for the claimant compared the experience to the game "whack-a-mole"; the pictures pop up again no matter how many times you hit them.
So we said: would it not be much more efficient to stop the pictures appearing on Google in the first place? Otherwise my lawyers would have constantly to monitor the web and approach Google each time one of these specific and known pictures appeared. We pointed out that the process could easily be automated, saving everyone time and money. At first, Google tried to suggest it could not be automated but later admitted it could.
I find it very difficult to understand why Google are prepared to remove a link manually on request but not to automate the process. However despite my best efforts, they continue to refuse. So in the end the only course open was to bring the matter before the courts.
That's where the so-called 'Streisand effect' comes in. I'm constantly being told that by suing Google for showing images that have been ruled illegal in the courts, I'm increasing the number of people who see the offending pictures. I find it difficult to believe anyone would think I didn't know that.
Exactly the same thing applied when I sued the News of the World over the original story back in 2008. There was no shortage of people pointing out that this would publicise precisely the information that I was saying should be kept private.
The purveyors of the blindingly obvious Streisand argument all miss the point. When something is clearly wrong and you have the means to act, you should, even if it means sacrifices on your part. I stood up to the bullies at the News of the World despite knowing I would have to endure days of embarrassing court reports. But I won and in so doing, hope I made it slightly more difficult for the tabloids to needlessly ruin other people's lives.
This latest episode is no different. The High Court has ruled the pictures illegal. Google refuses to take straightforward technical measures to stop them being displayed on its search engine. In a society with respect for the rule of law, that is clearly wrong. The point is a straightforward one: should Google be allowed to refuse to take measures to stop illegal images being displayed? Or should they have to respect the law and the courts as is the norm in all civilised societies?
Google has made great technical advances and has made information more accessible to everyone. Those advances have brought it enormous power and wealth. I believe that it's time for Google to learn that with great power and wealth comes great responsibility, not immunity from the rule of law.Suggest a correction