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Auntie fingers Twits for stating basic legal facts

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A Twitter exec has defended the company's stance on fighting for its users' rights, after a report on the BBC yesterday suggested that the micro-blogging site would turn over the details of people who break privacy injunctions to UK courts.

"Our policy is notify users & we have fought to ensure user rights. Sadly, some more interested in headlines than accuracy," said Twitter's general counsel Alexander Macgillivray, in response to the Beeb's report.

A BBC journalist unpicked comments made during the e-G8 forum yesterday by Tony Wang, who is Twitter's newly-installed European boss, after being asked about the company's policy on releasing information about its users to courts.

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

"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," he added.

"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."

The BBC subsequently reported that the exec was effectively warning Twitter users that they faced court action if they were to break privacy injunctions by tweeting details online.

Not entirely so, according to Macgillivray, who in a series of tweets, natch, provided evidence of Wang's additional comments at the e-G8 forum.

He said that "open expression on the internet should be part of the human rights framework," and added that the "response to bad speech should be more speech. Truth prevails in the end."

All of which is hardly a firm commitment to cheaply and quickly hand over user data to interested authorities, such as – in this instance – the UK courts. And the UK courts in any case have no jurisdiction over the US parts of Twitter, though they could make life very difficult for the company's European operations.

Consider too that anonymous Twitter accounts can easily be created using temporary email addresses with juicy gossip being sent via an internet cafe, PAYG mobile data SIM etc. Twitter might not be able to divulge a user's identity even if it wanted to.

Then, of course, the UK authorities might succeed in identifying a Tweeter: but they might easily find they had no jurisdiction over him or her. The whole process would be expensive and time-consuming, and much more so where the "I'm Spartacus" effect kicked in as it often does on Twitter.

In the most high-profile ongoing case it was first revealed publicly on Twitter that Ryan Giggs was the footballer who had taken out a privacy injunction to suppress details of an alleged affair with an ex-Big Brother contestant.

Last week Giggs began legal proceedings against Twitter, in an unlikely-to-succeed effort to smoke out the people behind the leak.

By Monday, MP John Hemming dropped an anti-injunction bomb in Parliament, when he named the Manchester United football star, who had previously been known only as "CTB" in court papers that had endorsed a privacy request to suppress reporting of the alleged affair.

"With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter, it is obviously impracticable to imprison them all," noted Hemming in the House of Commons earlier this week. ®

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