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Twitter forced to hand over user details to English council

Tyneside councillors hang spank Mr Monkey

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Twitter has handed over users' details following a demand from a local council in North East England that took its complaint to California, forcing the micro-blogging site to comply with a US court order.

It's understood to be the first legal action of its kind in the UK and comes after intense pressure has surrounded Twitter, which has been used as a tool for individuals to reveal the names of celebrities said to have taken out injunctions against the press reporting on aspects of their private lives.

The South Tyneside local authority took its case to a court in California demanding that Twitter reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger known online as "Mr Monkey".

"Twitter have released information to our lawyers and this is currently being analysed by technical experts," a council spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

It's alleged that the blogger made libellous remarks against councillors at the authority.

"The council has served a subpoena on Twitter demanding information on mine and several other accounts they think may be linked to me," tweeted independent councillor Ahmed Khan on 28 April this year.

Khan claimed the council had been handed details of five accounts on Twitter, two of which belonged to him.

They are: @fatcouncillor, @cllrdavidpotts, @councillorahmedkhan, @councillorkhan and @ahmedkhan01.

However, he denied claims that he was behind the "Mr Monkey" moniker.

"I'm the kind of person who will tell you face-to-face what I think. I have no need to use an anonymous blog," he said.

The action against "persons unknown" was brought by the council's Labour leader Ian Malcolm and three other individuals connected with the local authority.

The blog in question hasn't been updated since July 2009. The original action against "Mr Monkey" is available here (PDF).

The plaintiffs claim that the blogger switched to Twitter where the allegations continued.

It's not clear how much the South Tyneside authority spent on lodging its subpoena against Twitter in San Mateo County in California, but reports suggest it cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to secure.

“The defendant unlawfully posted false and defamatory statements about the plaintiffs on several weblogs, more commonly called blogs,” reads the court filing.

Under the order, plantiffs obtained the name, address, email address, telephone number and geographical location of the users behind the five Twitter accounts.

Last week Ryan Giggs was named by Lib Dem MP John Hemming in the House of Commons as the footballer behind a gagging order issued to the press in England and Wales in an effort to suppress details about an alleged affair.

Giggs, prior to his identity being reported on, began legal proceedings in the UK's High Court against Twitter in an effort to smoke out the people behind the leak of his name online. Whether the actions of the past few days will have any impact on that case remains to be seen, but it's significant to note that the local authority took its fight to California.

"Ask your lawyers for your money back Giggsy, their advice ain't worth the beermat it was written on," said Khan in a tweet after the Manchester United football star's identity was revealed by Hemming. ®

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