A matter of time
It's sometimes frightening to think how many stories we publish on the BBC News website. As the UK editor, I can sometimes lie awake at night worrying about what legal bombshell may be hiding away at the bottom of an index.
The internet is an evolving medium and so, naturally enough, is the law in this area. I suspect some key issues have yet to be tested before the courts (though this is not an invitation, I should say, for someone to start the ball rolling).
One of the questions that comes up quite a lot for us is the scale of the archive. There have now been over a million articles published since we began in 1997. We do sometimes get requests from members of the public who were quoted in stories a long time ago to have these references removed. The reasons can be trivial, such as they now find what they said embarrassing, or perhaps they have changed their view on the topic.
There have also been people convicted of a variety of offences who have asked us to take stories down, claiming that it is preventing them from getting on with their lives. Our response to these requests has generally been robust. We like to think of the large backlog of stories at the news website as equivalent to a newspaper archive. Every effort was made to ensure that the stories were accurate and reliable at the time of publication, and they remain in the archive for the record. If we start to alter this version of history, where on earth do we begin to draw the line?
It is true that until newspapers began setting up comprehensive websites of their own, the web provided much easier access to this kind of material, as opposed to a trip to your local library to hunt through back editions. One search on Google relating to a potential job applicant, for example, and a whole range of material may pop up.
With all this in mind, we are taking some comfort from a court hearing earlier this year where a High Court judge reaffirmed that a court report on the internet is protected by qualified privilege, even if the report is available some time after the proceedings took place. This basic protection from legal action had always been available to journalists in the past, and it is comforting to see that it still applies in this internet age.