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Privates on Parade

This would appear to add weight to the oft-cited PCC maxim, that “what interests the public is not necessarily the same as the public interest”.

Despite much-hyped fears expressed in some sections of the press, this is not a license for politicians to do whatever they please and remain immune from investigation. Rather, it states that individuals who have a public role nonetheless retain a right to privacy unless their behaviour directly impacts on the political and social life of the community.

Over in the world of bondage, dominance and sado-masochism (BDSM), individuals may be breaking out the champagne a little prematurely. Insofar as this decision reinforces the rights of individuals to privacy, it makes it that much less likely that some tabloid may intrude on your weekend partying just because what you get up to is seriously salacious.

But as one activist rather sourly commented: “It does not change the fact that you can legally beat someone senseless in the boxing ring or hurl them to the ground in a rugby match: but inflict any harm that is more than transient or trifling in a sexual context and you will be done for assault.

“Nor does it change the fact that you can quite legally watch footage of real crime, real executions, and the most horrendous brutality on the internet: but dare to view a mock-up of certain acts taking place between consenting adults in a sexual context, and you can go to jail for three years.”

There is, too, another fly in the ointment. Readers may be familiar with recent legislation on extreme porn, but they may be less familiar with a clause inserted at the last minute into the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. This states that individuals may be barred from working with children or vulnerable groups if they possess “sexually explicit images depicting violence against human beings”.

Again that sex thing: a psychotherapist could have a field day with the present cabinet. Already, however, we have some evidence of people being asked in job interviews about what type of pornography they look at.

The net effect of legislation and court action means that whilst the conduct of public figures may now be at least partially protected, any individual subject to vetting could in future find their sexuality "legitimately" plastered across the tabloids for this very reason. El Reg reckons that despite government re-assurances, the true vetting figure could be between 14 and 16 million adults.

Bootnote

El Reg’s own legal friend notes that in setting out the NOTW’s case, Mark Warby QC claimed that sadomasochistic cruelty is contrary to civilised values and “corrupting of those involved”. But as our learned friend points out, Warby must be aware of the text of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, which makes it an offence to publish material with a tendency to “deprave and corrupt” those who view it.

Since the NOTW claims that the article illustrates corrupting practices, this must surely lay it open to a prosecution for that offence. Something of an own goal on their part? Attempts to draw this matter to the attention of the Met failed as a very nice call centre person confessed that she had never heard of the OPA, and despite her faithful promise to get a supervisor to call us back, they never did. ®

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