Sunday, May 29, 2011
An English council has taken Twitter to court in the US in a bid to discover the identity of a blogger behind allegedly libellous statements.
South Tyneside Council went to court in California after three councillors and an official complained they were libelled in a blog called "Mr Monkey".
Twitter said it could not comment on individual court requests.
But the councillor at the centre of the row said Twitter had already handed over his account details.
Media law experts suggest the case may prompt more UK citizens to take action in the US, where Twitter is based.
Independent South Shields councillor Ahmed Khan is suspected of being the author of the blog, which has made a series of unfounded allegations against council leaders.
Mr Khan, who denies being the author, said he was told by Twitter in May that his account details had been disclosed after a subpoena was lodged with the Californian court.'This is Orwellian'
He said: "I don't fully understand it but it all relates to my Twitter account and it not only breaches my human rights, but it potentially breaches the human rights of anyone who has ever sent me a message on Twitter.
"This is Orwellian. It is like something out of 1984."
He admitted being a critic of some council policies, adding: "People who had the courage to come forward and expose possible wrongdoing within South Tyneside Council will not now do so.
"I also think that constituents who have used Twitter to engage with me, to air any problems or concerns that they have, will also think twice before doing that."
The Mr Monkey blog has made a number accusations against the council's Labour leader Iain Malcolm, as well as David Potts, the former Conservative leader who now serves as an Independent councillor, Labour councillor Anne Walsh and Rick O'Farrell, the council's head of enterprise and regeneration.
They are all named on papers delivered by the council's lawyers to the Superior Court of California.
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: "This legal action was initiated by the council's previous chief executive and has continued with the full support of the council's current chief executive.
"The council has a duty of care to protect its employees and as this blog contains damaging claims about council officers, legal action is being taken to identify those responsible."
He said he had no knowledge of councillors attending court hearings in the US or whether Twitter had as yet handed over any confidential information.'Hate campaign'
A spokesman for Twitter said: "We cannot comment on any specific order or request.
"As noted in our law enforcement guidelines, it is our policy to notify our users before disclosure of account information."
Lawyers challenged Twitter in the High Court in London to reveal the identities of its users who violated a super-injunction involving Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs.
MP John Hemming named the star in Parliament as the footballer who had used a super-injunction to hide an alleged affair, after Mr Giggs' name had been widely aired on Twitter.
Media lawyer Mark Stephens, who represented Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, said: "I am unaware of any other occasion where somebody from this country has actually gone to America and launched proceedings in a Californian court to force Twitter to release the identities of individuals.
"The implications are that people who have had their name released can actually now go to California and begin proceedings.
"Local authorities cannot sue for libel and, if individual councillors have been defamed, they should take proceedings at their own cost."
Mr Potts said: "We are public figures and we expect to take flack. But this isn't flack, it's a hate campaign.
"I'm a well-known businessman and if someone ran a hate campaign against one of my employees, I would do everything in my power to aggressively track down those responsible.
"This is not a waste of taxpayers' money. When we recover damages - and we will - I will hand over every penny to the borough."
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