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Twitter chief hints he may have to divulge users' names

Twitter has has promised it will notify any users whose identities it intends to give to the authorities.

The pledge was made as the company said for the first time that it will hand over user identities if legally required.

But in a speech at the e-G8 Internet forum in Paris, Tony Wang, head of Twitter operations in Europe, suggested the social network would accede to a UK court order to divulge names because it preferred to comply with local laws when illegal activity had taken place.

Mr Wang said: "Platforms have a responsibility, not to defend that user but to protect that user's right to defend him or herself. 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."

Despite the public statement by a senior Twitter executive it remains unclear if the social-network forum will hand over the names of people who used it to identify Ryan Giggs for using a super-injunction to prevent the publication of his identity as the footballer alleged to have had an affair with Imogen Thomas, of Big Brother.

A statement tweeted by Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter's general counsel, did little to expand on Mr Wang's pledge to warn users when they were to be identified: "Our policy is notify users and we have fought to ensure user rights. Sadly, some more interested in headlines than accuracy."

Under American law, especially with the constitutional rights to freedom of speech, it is thought that Twitter could simply refuse to give the UK courts any details unless ordered to do so by the US courts.

Agreeing to comply with local jurisdictions would raise fears that Twitter would be willing to hand over the names of users to courts in China, despite that country's poor record on human rights and freedom of expression.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, told the BBC: "I do view it to being similar to the Chinese situation where they also cover up misdeeds of high-ranking people."

But Mr Wales was confident that the authorities in the US were unlikely to try to force Twitter to meekly relent the courts in Britain because of the enshrinement of freedom of expression in the United States Constitution.

Next for social networking

Books, television shows and news will be the next subjects to become the focus of social networking, the founder of Facebook believes.

Mark Zuckerberg said they would be transformed into "media experiences" similar to computer games already on the site. He told the e-G8 Internet Forum in Paris yesterday they were contenders for the next generation of social networking.