Thursday, May 26, 2011

Twitter will alert users before handing over information to authorities

Twitter will alert users before handing over information to authoritiesTwitter will alert users that they are being pursued if they are forced to hand over user information to authorities.

Tony Wang, who heads up Twitter's European operations, commented when asked about an online privacy dispute that is beginning to boil over in the UK. "Platforms should have responsibility not to defend the user, but to protect that user's right to defend him or herself," said Wang.

On several occasions, information has shown up on Twitter that could be found to violate the law in the UK. This often includes personal information about people in the public eye, such as celebrities and athletes.

The case that has brought the questionable legality of some tweets to the front pages started with a so called superinjunction granted to a Premier League footballer when it became clear that the mainstream media was throwing around a story alleging he had an affair.

When a superinjunction of this nature is issued, the mainstream media (newspapers and their websites, television news stations etc.) generally honor it. However, it becomes blurry when you consider that a UK citizen can use Twitter to publish that information quite easily, and it can quickly spread across the site.

Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs was outed as the Premier League star who had been granted the injunction several weeks ago, which at the time was honored by the media. However, it was no secret on Twitter very quickly.

News then made the rounds that Giggs' lawyers have filed a lawsuit to identify the sources of the tweets that helped spread the rumor wide and far. The case also got blown into the mainstream media, despite the injunction, when a member of parliament in the UK used his immunity to identify Giggs as the footballer behind the injunction.

Since then there has been a lot of mixed feelings. In some corners, the whole idea of a superinjunction is being challenging in a free society, while others stress the need to also protect people's personal and private matters from being all over the front pages.

Some Manchester United fans also questioned the timing of the media's mass intervention into the case, which came pretty much on the day that the club won a record 19th Premier League title (Giggs' 12th), and just a week ahead of the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday where Manchester United will face Barcelona in the biggest football game of the season.

Manchester police even confirmed that cars belonging to journalists and paparazzi outside Giggs home were attacked by masked men in an incident earlier this week.

U.S.-based Twitter is likely to hand over user information related to the case, but the website will alert the user first to prepare them to fight their corner.

"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," Wang said. "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."

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