The rethink comes after a judge granted a privacy injunction, meaning that English newspapers could not legally publish the name of a professional soccer player who allegedly had an affair, despite thousands of people who have reported the name on the social-networking site.
Prime Minister David Cameron has called the situation “unsustainable”.
The footballer issued legal proceedings against Twitter and “persons unknown” – the tweeters who had repeated his name. But the action is unlikely to succeed, because English courts have no jurisdiction over the US-based company. “There are real challenges to bringing an action against Twitter,” says Dominic Crossley, a partner at the London law firm Collyer Bristow who specialises in privacy law.
Although the player’s name has also been published on blogs and Wikipedia, the ease and speed at which information spreads on Twitter makes it a significant threat to injunctions. Users can retweet other’s messages to their followers with a single click, rapidly distributing them through the network.
Crossley says that retweeters are unlikely to face legal consequences, but the initial tweeter could: “There may have been a journalist who deliberately disseminated this and encouraged the enormous publication on Twitter. If that is the case, he or she could go to prison.”
The clash between law and technology coincides with the publication last week of a judicial report on the use of injunctions and superinjunctions, in which the press cannot even report the existence of an injunction. The report was commissioned in April 2010 but makes no recommendation on enforcing injunctions on sites like Twitter. “I do think there is a need for this issue to be looked at,” says Crossley.
This morning Cameron said, “I think the government and Parliament have got to take some time out, have a proper look at this, have a think about what we can do, but I’m not sure there is going to be a simple answer.”
The footballer was later named in the House of Commons as Manchester United player Ryan Giggs. Member of Parliament John Hemming identified the player using parliamentary privilege.
23 May 2011 by Jacob Aron