When looking at the “Ryan Giggs case”, in what some are referring to as a landmark ruling regarding free-speech and the internet, Twitter has released the details of UK users to a British local council.
The particulars are that four officials of South Tyneside Council, unhappy with a blog run by a certain “Mr Monkey”, decided to take action.
Since the blog has now been taken down, exactly what it was that was written is difficult to ascertain. Reports vary from “libelous statements”, to others describing the blog as a “whistle-blower.”
The four decided to approach the Superior Court of California with a subpoena for the identity of Mr Monkey. In what has proved to be a controversial move, the Council paid for the suit — already more than £70 000 — which was brought by the individuals in their personal capacity.
The court-order requested that Twitter release the contact details, location information and computer addresses of the individuals behind four accounts believed to be linked to the Mr Monkey blog
There were a number of Twitter accounts that the suit identified as the possible writer of the Mr Monkey blog. One of the accounts which is named in the subpoena is held by another Tyneside Councillor, Ahmed Khan.
Khan, who denies being Mr Monkey said, he received notification in April from Twitter that an application for his personal data had been lodged and went on to say, “I don’t fully understand it but it all relates to my Twitter account and it not only breaches my human rights, but it potentially breaches the human rights of anyone who has ever sent me a message on Twitter. This is Orwellian. It is like something out of 1984.”
As various Twitter employees said — loudly defended the service in a minor spat over a BBC article last week — this has always been their policy.
When faced with a “court order, or other valid legal process document”, for information on a user they will notify the user that such a request has been filed and hand over what information they have.
A council spokesperson in confirming that Twitter had released the information said in a statement: “The council has a duty of care to protect its employees and as this blog contains damaging claims about council officers, legal action is being taken to identify those responsible.”
There are of course unsettling parallels in this case and that of the tens of thousands of UK Twittter users who were sued for breaking a super-injunction and naming Ryan Giggs as having had an affair with UK personality Imogen Thomas.
However, there are some key differences.
The applicant in that case — named as Giggs — laid the case in UK courts. By doing so Giggs, if he is the applicant, was able to keep his name from being attached to the case which would not have been possible had he laid the case in the US.
Twitter, as a US company was in no way compelled to reply to that court-order. In fact, on Friday, the deadline for the details of those thousands of users went by with seemingly no reply from Twitter. Twitter could ignore this court order without contravening its own rules on grounds that a UK court-order had no legal power over them, as a US company.
Essentially, had the applicant in this far more famous case placed the subpoena in a US court — or were he to choose to do so — there was a chance he would receive the names of the tweeters.
Unlike Facebook, which wants to fight a test case on how it can protect user data, the service seems to be taking a far more relaxed approach in terms of its duty to protect its users data.