Over 100 years ago, the Rev. LaFayette Moore, a Baptist minister, gave up parish work and entered the business world with a pill cutter and gelatin coating machine. He rented one room over a carpenter shop. Money was short, and he obtained much of his raw materials on credit from Miller’s drug store in New York. Oscar Bell, a clerk in that store, vouched for Rev. Moore, subsequently borrowing to pay Rev. Moore’s outstanding bill.
Oscar had faith in the Rev. Moore, for Moore had acquired a recipe for curing the diarrhoea and ulcers that afflicted so many businessmen in New York.
That is to condense a very long story, but you get the idea.
You may wonder what this has to do with Internet anonymity. Surely anything to do with the Internet is new age, decades beyond snake oil salesmen in 19th century New York. Clean, digital, to say nothing of lawless and anarchic? The province of the young; a new world that they scamper over untrammelled?
Not at all, it is the long arm of the Rev. Moore that is reaching out, this time to create a little trouser staining of its own, and a fair few ulcers. How ironic that its victims may well be gulping down the product that belongs to their very persecutor.
40 years ago, the descendants of Rev Moore were the proud possessors of the patent for Furazolidone. A drug that was believed to be an effective cure for the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, a bacterium that lives in the stomach of over half the world’s population.
(I can feel the ground trembling as Leg-Iron rises up in rage at this simplistic description of his specialist subject, thank-God its early morning, he won’t be around for several hours to vent his wrath!)
It was a valuable patent, and the owners were more than annoyed that ‘somebody’ was bringing unlicensed supplies of the drug into Britain, trouble was, they didn’t know who.
They knew a man who did though.
The Customs and Excise man who supervised the ships that carried the contraband Furazolidone. He wouldn’t tell them who was shipping the stuff, saying he had a duty of confidentiality to them.
In some jurisdictions, France amongst them, there is a legal requirement to come to the assistance of, say, a drowning man. There is no such requirement in Britain. You don’t have to save life unless you also have a duty of care towards the person – parent/child, employer/employee etc. yet the descendants of Rev Moore were able to rely on settled law that you can be compelled to assist a person who is suffering damage to their property.
The House of Lords ruled that the Customs and Excise, although an innocent party in all this, held information relating to unlawful conduct that was damaging the property – the patent, in this case – that belonged to someone who was suffering damage to that property. The principle of ‘discovery’ goes back to the Rev. Moore’s time, ironically for a cure for diarrhoea, in a case called Orr v Diaper. They had to hand over the information. It became known as the Norwich Pharmacal order.
It is that same order which has been developed to force innocent parties – Wikimedia, Facebook, Google, to hand over the names and addresses of internet users when there is a ‘reasonable basis’ to believe that they have been instrumental facilitators in assisting ‘damage’ to property, including the barely tangible – intellectual property, reputation, or privacy.
To read the main stream media you would believe that the mechanism by which Twitter and Internet providers are currently ‘being forced’ to hand over the names and addresses of the ‘forum furies’ and sick individuals who imagine the Internet is some sort of lawless society where they can freely defame, and conjure up their sick theories, is ‘new law’, part and parcel of the ‘out of control’ judiciary, making law to suit themselves, without reference to parliament. A breech of their ‘human right’ to ‘free speech’.
It isn’t, it is a 19th C remedy, applied to 21st C technology.
The forum furies and snake oil salesmen currently nursing letters from Mssrs Carter-Ruck are free to muse on the origins of their problems as they down their ulcer cures and fret that they might stain their trousers….