Police blogs seem to be much in the news these last few days. When Britain’s Bobbies aren’t accidentally killing protester’s by beating the shit out of them, or punching someone they just tasered in the head, it seems their blogging about it.

One such detective is in the news for having just lost the right to keep his blog anonymous. I’ve only just heard about this case, and must admit to never having read the (now deleted) blog, but I expect that its going to generate some interesting discussions over the next few weeks about the concept of anonymity and privacy on the internet.

In a nut shell, it appears that Richard Horton (aka NightJack, the author of a popular exposé on his life in the force) has just lost an injunction against The Times that would have prevented them from exposing his real name. Horton had protested that if they did so, it would put him “at risk of disciplinary action for disclosing confidential information about prosecutions within the force”.

My immediate reaction to this is to find it just a little bit ironic that its a law enforcer who is seeking protection from the law for being exposed for doing something potentially unlawful. I don’t blame the judge for turning down his request. His case for anonymity is built on an argument that he thinks he’s done something wrong he should be punished for.

But the intelligence of this particular copper aside, there’s the bigger debate about internet anonymity, and blogging in general. Given that I’m all still excited about getting back into the blog zone, here’s some half baked thoughts on the topic.

I see this as falling somewhere in that googy grey zone of morality that usually comes up in discussions of paparazzi intimidation of famous people. The argument is always that people who choose to step into the limelight can’t expect to have privacy. By opening up one’s life, one looses all rights to not be photographed 24 hours a day, to not have people camp out on your doorstep and scream abuse at you, and so on. There’s something utterly obnoxious about this argument, but its an argument that seems to stick.

For bloggers, or any writer in fact who chooses to share some aspect of their life, I guess the same argument could be made. Putting yourself up on a public stage means giving away some rights to privacy and anonymity. Long before the internet, a pseudonym was no guarantee one’s identity wouldn’t be discovered either. I assume that the journalist didn’t have to work too hard to find out who he was. Damned by his own keyboard, so to speak. The closer it is to an authentic expression of reality, the easier it is to find out who the “real” person is.

The question taken from the oppostie direction would be, does it make a difference if we know that he is Richard Horton as opposed to NightJack? Why did the Times want to expose him? The hunt to find the “real” person seems to be something peculiarly urgent: if we find out Shakespeare was really Marlow, or Bacon, or Elizabeth I, this somehow will make his/her poetry and plays more or less real? I’m sure there’s a world of literary and authenticity theory that we could conjure up here. Still. At some point does it only matters who Pauline Réage was as opposed to Anne Desclos, when we think we know either of them beyond the page. What is this urge to uncover the “real” person, the truer experience, the concrete behind the spectacle.

And then there is also the accusation, made by The Times, that in writing about real, ongoing cases, he put police investigations at risk. The failure to properly anonymize his own writing seems remarkably stupid, up there with the infamous, ongoing Jared Diamond case, and makes me wonder whether bloggers and journalists need their own form of an IRB.

Maybe, in the end, the simple answer is that he should have just called it fiction. There’s a thriving tradition of writing first ‘novels’ that are thinly disguised biographies.

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