UK privacy-hungry celebrities face Mubarak moment

Tue May 24, 2011 12:13pm EDT
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By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - Egypt's Hosni Mubarak failed to stem protest by turning off the Internet. Syria couldn't stop mobile phone video of bloody crackdowns appearing on YouTube.

The U.S. struggled to prevent the spread of Wikileaks cables and all the efforts of China's authorities haven't quite halted online dissent.

Now, a selection of mid-ranking British celebrities who hoped expensive court "superinjunctions" would hide affairs or indiscretions may be the latest victims of the rising power of the Internet and social media.

No one knows quite how many actors, sportsmen, companies and others have obtained such judgments in recent years to stop publication of embarrassing or damaging allegations. Estimates vary from a few dozen to up to 200.

Only available in Britain but theoretically with global reach, superinjunctions ban media outlets from mentioning not only the details of the case and the identities of those involved but even the existence of the injunction itself.

Breaching the order would put someone in contempt of court, liable to an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison.

Mainstream media organizations largely -- if reluctantly -- obeyed; but in recent weeks a string of identities and occasionally explicit details have leaked anyway, largely via Twitter and the wider Internet.

The highest profile, Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs, was on Monday finally outed by mainstream media after an MP used "parliamentary privilege" to name him after tens of thousands of Twitter users had done likewise.   Continued...

<p>Manchester United's Ryan Giggs celebrates his goal against Schalke 04 during their Champions League semi-final first leg soccer match in Gelsenkirchen April 26, 2011. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay</p>