Twitter just gave into pressure from British councillors to release the private information of users who made some allegedly libelous tweets.
This is a landmark case in the already-messy realm of online free speech and privacy. Updated.
The case had to do with five Twitter users, @councillorkhan and @ahmedkhan01, and was made by councillors in the town of South Tyneside.
They were brought in by Ryan Giggs, one very famous player for Manchester United, to investigate claims by a Mr. Monkey that he was the holder of an injunction to protect his own personal information. Adding to the drama, Mr. Monkey is believed to be Ahmed Khan, a fellow councillor and the owner of the Twitter handles being investigated. The suit itself cost a pretty penny, too, having the lawyers come all the way out to California in order to address Twitter personally.
Twitter has, up to now, been resistant to releasing the account details of its users, but has also stated that it would comply with legal requests. Twitter complied with their complaint and chose to release the names, location data, and and email addresses of the people accused. Their decision begs not a few questions, particularly: Can we expect that much more litigious lawsuits based on Twitter libel? and; How much should we be watching our tweets from now on? [Telegraph] Updated.
I should correct myself here, as key details regarding this particular case are either confused or untrue. Firstly, the councillors in question do not represent footballer Ryan Giggs. The Giggs case concerns the player's controversial super injunction to keep his name out of the press following an extra-marital affair. That issue is apart from the Mr. Monkey/Ahmed Khan affair.
Also, Twitter notified Mr. Khan about their being served papers by the South Tyneside councillors. He chose not to defend himself, saying on Twitter, "I had no knowledge of US law and was wary of the costs involved. I would have had to fund any action myself." The way was clear at that point for Twitter to comply with the legal request and submit his information, though no official comment has been made on their part. Khan has indicated that his information was released.
Taking this into account, this story boils down to what constitutes libel in the UK and if British citizens can see fit to come to the States to voice their complaints in court. [WiredPen]