Twitter prepared to hand over details of users

By Ian Dunt

Twitter has surprised observers by saying it is prepared to hand over the details of its users to law enforcement agencies over injunctions.

The comment comes after thousands of Twitter users gleefully broke an injunction preventing reports of an alleged affair between a footballer and a reality TV star.

“Platforms have a responsibility, not to defend that user but to protect that user’s right to defend him or herself,” said Tony Wang, Twitter’s head of European operations.

“If we’re legally required to turn over user information, to the extent that we can, we want to notify the user involved, let them know and let them exercise their rights under their own jurisdiction.

“That’s not to say that they will ultimately prevail, that’s not to say that law enforcement doesn’t get the information they need, but what it does do is take that process into the court of law and let it play out there.”

Most experts had assumed that Twitter could ignore the legal requests because it is based in the US.

Lawyers acting for Ryan Giggs had launched injunction proceedings against Twitter after a user posted details of several alleged injunctions, some of which were definitely inaccurate. That action prompted thousands more to name the footballer in an act of online rebellion.

The situation faded in relevance once Lib Dem MP John Hemming used parliamentary privilege to reveal Mr Gigg’s name in the Commons.

But attorney general Dominic Grieve has already warned Twitter users that they may get a “rude shock” for breaching injunctions.

“It is quite clear, and has been clear for some time in a number of different spheres, that the enforceability of court orders and injunctions when the internet exists into which information can be rapidly posted, that presents a challenge,” he said earlier this week.

“But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the right course of action is to abandon any attempt at preventing people from putting out information which may in some circumstances be enormously damaging to vulnerable people or indeed, in some cases, be the peddling of lies.”

The Twitter admission is likely to encourage celebrities to launch actions against the users of the social media site.

It is unlikely, however, to result in a major change to the site’s rebellious disposition. Users will always be able to create an anonymous profile in an internet café and avoid revealing any personal data.