A privacy law must not muzzle our memories | Jonathan Heawood | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Briscoe’s memoir undoubtedly invades her mother’s privacy, for which, legally, truth is no defence.
So how can we avoid these risks? Well, there is some difference between deliberate invasion of privacy (as Brian Cathcart has memorably described it) by journalists whose only interest is commercial, and the revelations that we choose to tell about our own lives.
Some intrusions may be justified in the public interest. But there shouldn’t even be a case to answer when the events in question were a shared experience. And that goes as much for Imogen Thomas as for the most innocent autobiographer. Whether you are publishing your own sensitive account of a long and blameless life, or granting an explicit interview to a popular newspaper, you have a right to express yourself honestly – whether or not you cause harm to others in the process. It comes down to who is speaking: the law has no business dictating terms on shared memories. But it can legitimately seek to deter journalists and others from intruding into experiences that do not concern them.
The risk is that the wrong kind of privacy law could add millions of pounds to the legal bills of Britain’s publishers, undermining literary fiction and non-fiction in this country. Morally, we may well object to the contents of some memoirs and kiss-and-tell stories. But, legally, we need to accept that it is better for such stories to be published, and for their authors to risk being damned, than for all of our memories to be muzzled.