How Twitter is upending British privacy laws
While extreme gag orders, or 'super injunctions,' often keep the British press from airing the private details of celebrities' court cases, they haven't yet been able to quiet the Twitterati.
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“But with the anonymity afforded Twitter users, and the phenomenon of retweeting,” he admits, “prosecution would be difficult – if not impossible.”Skip to next paragraph
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Giggs, though, with a wife and children at home, money to burn, and a grudge to settle, was not deterred, and recently filed papers at the High Court demanding that Twitter disclose the names of its users who identified him.
Tweeters quickly united to fight back, swamping the site by repeatedly naming the player at a rate of up to 16 times a minute so as to try and make it impossible to track where the information was coming from. Perhaps inevitably, a new Facebook page also popped up: “Ryan Giggs is suing Twitter. I Can’t Imogen Why,” which currently has more than 75,000 fans.
A Twitter spokesman explained, via e-mail, that: “… there are tweets that we do remove, such as illegal tweets and spam… . However, we make efforts to keep these exceptions narrow so they may serve to prove a broader and more important rule – we strive not to remove tweets on the basis of their content.”
But the European head of Twitter, Tony Wang, then surprised many when he announced that “if legally required,” the company would relent to giving the police information on the tens of thousands of people who broke the super-injunction law. But, he also said, they would notify the relevant users beforehand. “Platforms have a responsibility, not to defend the user, but to protect that user’s right to defend himself or herself,” he told the BBC.
Britain's liberal privacy laws
The affair has led to a growing chorus in Britain arguing that it is the privacy laws themselves that are the problem, and that this has become all the more clear in this Internet day and age. Even Prime Minister David Cameron admitted the increasing use of such strict gag orders was “unsustainable.”
According to The Independent newspaper, Giggs's injunction was one of at least 333 gag orders protecting the identities of celebrities, children, and private individuals granted by judges over the past five years. Some of these injunctions, such as Giggs's super injunction, are so draconian that it is a crime even to mention that they exist at all.
When the Parliament took up the debate recently to discuss the implications of the information being revealed on Twitter and Facebook, MP John Hemming did the unthinkable – he named Giggs – in front of all the parliamentarian press corps.
Afterward, a slightly absurd situation arose: Would the British media's reporting of Mr. Hemming's comments break the law?
“As things stand, Britain’s twisted privacy law is archaic,” said the London Times in an editorial. “In the past, this was merely wrong. Today, it is idiotic.”