Twitter may hand over user details in superinjunction fiasco

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Twitter has promised to warn users if it's forced to hand over the names of users who have breached UK superinjunctions.

In recent weeks, tens of thousands of Twitter users have named the soccer player alleged to have had an extramarital affair with a Big Brother contestant, in violation of a so-called superinjunction preventing discussion of the case.

While few people see Ryan Giggs' affair as a matter of national importance, hundreds of other superinjunctions are known to be in force, some brought by senior figures in politics or industry.

Many see this as a violation of free speech and press freedom, and are determined to demonstrate the stupidity of the law by broadcasting the supposedly secret information via Twitter. Sheer numbers should protect them, goes the theory, as should the fact that Twitter is not based in the UK and is thus outside its jurisdiction.

However, Giggs has threatened to pursue Twitter itself and at least some of 70,000-odd people concerned through the courts.

Twitter has responded by saying that it will comply with any court order to hand over user details - but will give users a chance to fight back.

"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," said Tony Wang, head of European operations at Twitter at the e-G8 forum in Paris yesterday.

"Platforms have a responsibility, not to defend that user but to protect that user's right to defend him or herself."

The gagging order is still, in theory, in force. On Monday, a judge rejected an attempt by the Sun newspaper to lift the ban.

Mr Justice Tugendhat commented: "It is obvious that if the purpose  was to protect a secret then it would have now failed – but as it is to do with harassment it has not failed."