Four council workers at centre of fresh Twitter privacy row

A court order has forced Twitter to hand over the personal details of a British user, raising further questions about free speech on the internet and the possibility that celebrities and corporations could head to US courts to unmask users who break injunctions or make libellous comments.

Four individuals – three councillors and an official at South Tyneside Council – subpoenaed Twitter in a Californian court, where the company is based, in a bid to reveal who was behind an anonymous whistle-blowing blog called Mr Monkey.

The action, believed to be the first case brought by British claimants, is itself contentious because the council involved has paid for the legal proceedings for the individuals and has already cost taxpayers more than £70,000.

The implications for Twitter, which will have to spend time and money researching the orders while it faces a continuous barrage of privacy questions, are significant. The users in question could now face legal action as well as being identified.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that the Superior Court of California had granted the order, which forces the company to release contact details, location information and computer addresses of the individuals behind four accounts believed to be linked to the Mr Monkey blog.

Ahmed Khan, an independent councillor, has admitted to being the owner of one of the accounts but said he was not the author of Mr Monkey.

Mr Khan, who in April was told that a request had been lodged relating to his account, said: "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."

Twitter said it could not comment on individual cases, but its privacy policy states it will "comply with a law, regulation or legal request". The company said it would "notify users before disclosure of account information".

Media lawyer Mark Stephens, who represented WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange when the US government tried to obtain his Twitter details, said those running websites criticising corporations or even regimes could be affected.

He said: "There is a possibility those running anti-government or company websites will be targeted. These law actions can be taken by anyone, corporations, totalitarian regimes for example. We need to seriously think what this could mean for people trying to expose wrongdoings."

One person who could benefit from the ruling is Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs, who could potentially use a similar order to force the release of details of some 75,000 Twitter users who named him as the holder of a super-injunction.

John Hemming MP used parliamentary privilege to name Giggs publicly, but the player – who was attempting to conceal an alleged affair with former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas – has pursued Twitter through the UK courts to obtain the individuals' details.

The deadline for the UK court order passed on Friday, apparently without Twitter responding, and it has no legal status in the US. "Giggs could have done this weeks ago," Mr Stephens said. "In commercial litigation, where the principles are established, you quite often begin proceedings in another country to aid proceedings in the main jurisdiction you are fighting it."

One reason Giggs might not have gone to the US initially was because the subpoena would have revealed his identity. Mr Stephens added: "Privacy tourism has begun, there is no doubt about that."

South Tyneside Council has been criticised for pursuing the legal case, but a spokesman said it "had a duty of care to protect its employees", adding that the current legal costs amounted to "less than £75,000".

He said: "We can confirm we have received information from Twitter. This is currently being investigated by technical experts."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003