This is the second time I’ve blogged over the apparent disclosure of Twitter user details to support a lawsuit at a ridiculous hour this week, but it’s worth it.
The Telegraph is leading with a front page story bearing the headline “Twitter Reveals Secrets”.
Twitter has NOT handed over user details to CTB so he can sue for breach of privacy or violation of his Superinjunction. CTB has made an application in a UK Court for disclosure of user details from Twitter, who are based in the US and have no assets in this jurisdiction. It is very difficult to enforce a UK Court Order in the US. Our privacy law, based on a combination of the European Convention On Human Rights, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the law of confidentiality, doesn’t apply there. US privacy law is,as I understand it, pretty different.
Twitter has disclosed details of users on the request of South Tyneside Council, who are looking to take action in defamation against a whistleblower called “Mr.Monkey” who has accused Councillors of criminal offences. A Council can’t sue for libel in its own right but individual Councillors can. They’ll need to find out where he is to work out if this is possible, and they have obtained the order in California under Californian Law. The allegations of criminal misconduct will probably be libellous in California-they certainly are over here, although if Monkey is a whistleblower he or she may be protected by defences in public interest or justification. In the UK courts, making such an application for disclosure requires a case with strong merits brought by the eventual claimant in a claim and as the Council can’t sue for libel this will teach us a lot about hoe the US and UK courts deal with this kind of legal redress.
Yes, this is a big deal. But it’s a big deal in US law, not ours. We grant orders like this against UK companies fairly often. CTB should have gone to California and done the same thing. The law may be different, but his odds would have been better and he wouldn’t have been seen as a global King Canute, just a claimant using a local system to get a local remedy.
I’m no expert in US law, but I’ve been tweeting with @Cathygellis, who is. For now, CTB’s critics are safe. The deadline for Twitter to comply with the UK Court Order has come and gone, with no sign yet of them caving in. This is significant from the perspective of a point of principle, but I doubt the case will help CTB’s cause.
CTB has gone from being in a battle on one front to a war on many, and there’s no flag being waved by Twitter just yet. As you were.