Who made it easier?

The Press reports:

A blogger faces fresh charges after he revealed the name of a national figure charged with indecently assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

Cameron Slater already faces charges over alleged breaches of name suppression, and he said yesterday that he had no doubt his latest effort would land him in more trouble.

Slater, who writes the WhaleOil blog, yesterday posted a blog entry that stated the name of a man charged with indecent assault. The name had to be deciphered by translating a code the blog was written in.

I think it was hexadecimal converted into binary. Now Cameron will find out in due course, whether or not that is seen to identify the ex-MP with name supression, but if they do prosecute the Whale, the question has to be asked whether newspapers should be charged also?

The man’s name was suppressed when he appeared in the Nelson District Court on Thursday.

A Sunday newspaper published details about the man, which Slater said had narrowed the field of possible accused to three.

He wanted to clarify who the accused was so the other two men were not unfairly accused.

Now I am not gunning for the Herald on Sunday. But I would say that far more people worked out from their story, who the accussed is, than the handful of people who were capable of working out the code Cameron had used, and reverse engineering it into hexadecimal and finally the  alphabet.

I am not saying that one justifies the other, or two wrongs make a right. I am saying that the Police should be very careful not to be selective. The Herald on Sunday article told us the following:

  • An ex-MP in Nelson – narrows it down to around four people
  • A “national figure” – probably eliminates around two of the four people as now very low profile
  • He has a partner
  • Has a firearms licence (implied)
  • Implies the victim is the partner’s daughter
  • Implies the ex-MP has been in more than one party by referring to the leader of “a” party he represented in Parliament

I would say that identifies the accused far more easily to many more people than the hexadecimal and binary code did.

You can argue that Whale’s post left no doubt, once you cracked his codes, while the newspaper story only allows you to make an intelligent guess. However the law in s139(2) says:

No person shall publish … the name of the person accused or convicted of the offence or any name or particulars likely to lead to the person’s identification.

Were the particulars in the newspaper story enough to be likely to lead to identification of the accused? They certainly were for me, and most political observers.

Now again, I am not advocating that the newspaper be charged. I would prefer no one be charged. But I would be interested in how one could conclude that the blog post is a breach, but the newspaper story is not.

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