Twitter has been forced to hand over the personal details of a British user following a landmark legal ruling in California.
This is thought to be the first time that Twitter has been forced to identify an anonymous user. It comes at a time when online privacy is a major issue following the leaking of names involved in so called super injunctions through Twitter.
This case started in South Shields after a number of allegedly libellous tweets were posted about senior councillors and council officials of South Tyneside Council. The main suspect was an independent member, Cllr Ahmed Khan, but the local authority was unable to prove that he was the author.
So the Council took a case against San Francisco based Twitter to the Superior Court of California. They won and the judge ordered the user’s private details to be handed over.
Council spokesman Paul Robinson said information had been disclosed by Twitter to its lawyers, and was, “being analysed by technical experts.”
Cllr Khan has always denied being the author of the remarks. He said he was told by Twitter that IP identities, mobile phone numbers and e-mail addresses related to two Twitter accounts would be handed over to the Council.
“It is like something out of 1984,” Khan told the Guardian. “If a council can take this kind of action against one of its own councillors simply because they don’t like what I say, what hope is there for freedom of speech or privacy?”
Media lawyer Mark Stephens, who represented Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, said, “I am unaware of any other occasion where somebody from this country has actually gone to America and launched proceedings in a Californian court to force Twitter to release the identities of individuals.
“The implications are that people who have had their name released can actually now go to California and begin proceedings.”
This case has profound implications for anyone who thinks that posting online behind an anonymous user name will protect them against the legal consequences of their remarks. A previous British ruling established that tweets are public information, but now it seems that they are not protected in law.
And if Ryan Giggs wants to know who has been making comments on his love life it looks like he now has a way to find out.