Tech & society

British Councilman Waives Protest Rights, Says Twitter Released Personal Data

Update of Saturday story: Twitter, Gag Orders and The British Press : Update – On Storify

The Sunday London Telegraph has a screaming headline:

Twitter reveals secrets: Details of British users handed over in landmark case that could help Ryan Giggs

The problem is this: nothing in the story supports the assertion.

The Telegraph listed five Twitter accounts as targets; three are managed by South Tyneside Councillor Ahmed Khan; the other two are no longer in service (page not found).

Twitter - Gill-Khan Conversation
Councilman Khan Says Twitter Released His Personal Data

Twitter followed its policy of notifying users prior to responding to a legal court order, according to Khan. In a Twitter conversation, Khan said Twitter notified him on April 15 that it had been subpoenaed to reveal personal information regarding his Twitter accounts. Subsequently, on April 28 the ChronicleLive reported that Khan’s private and council Twitter accounts were the subject of a subpoena.

For whatever reason, Khan did not hire counsel to protest the legal maneuver,  according to the Telegraph 
saying “I had no knowledge of US law and was wary of the costs involved. I would have had to fund any action myself.”

Khan said that Twitter released the information on May 5.

The affected accounts: @fatcouncillor  [“Councillor Ahmed Khan’s conscience”], @cllrdavidpotts [no such account], @councillorahmedkhan [no such account], @councillorkhan  [Khan’s Council account] and @ahmedkhan01 [Khan’s personal account].

The Telegraph framed the Twitter subpoena like a fishing expedition, implying that it was part of a two-year old civil case regarding an anonymous blogger, Mr Monkey. [We have only their word for the connection.]

Four South Tyneside Councilors — Iain Malcom, David Potts, Anne Walsh and Rick O’Farrell — filed a complaint in the Superior Court of California, San Mateo County (a call for jury trial) on April 6, 2009 (Case CIV482779 – IAIN MALCOLM VS. DOES – court PDF, local PDF) citing libel, invasion of privacy and emotional distress. Legal counsel is a U.S. law firm, McDermott Will & Emery.

Per the court documents, the offending remarks were allegedly published by a “blog-hosting company in the State of California.” According to the court timeline, there is a Case Management Conference scheduled for July 21, 2011. Nothing in this document mentions Twitter by name. (It is not a blog hosting company.)

There is nothing in this scenario involving the South Tyneside Council that remotely resembles the case surrounding Ryan Giggs, the infamous football player.

  1. The biggest: there is no gag order like there is in the Giggs case.
  2. In the Giggs case, there are no allegations of anonymous libelous blog posts, only violations of the gag order (super injunction).
  3. Twitter did what Twitter says it will do: notify account holders if it is served with legally binding papers. It has not been served with legally binding papers in the Giggs case.
  4. The accused elected not to defend himself. Why would Twitter not release information under this scenario?
  5. Oh. And it appears to be “a” user not “users”. Assuming the two defunct accounts were operated by separate individuals, the total here would be three. There are reportedly thousands of people who have tweeted about Giggs.

In commentary on the Giggs case, Jillian York notes that Twitter notified Birgitta Jonsdottir when the U.S. government demanded access to her records as part of its investigation into WikiLeaks:

In January, Twitter rightfully received the world’s praise for insisting on notifying its users when the U.S. government demanded information about several Twitter users. Now Twitter’s policy of notifying users may be triggered again, in the event that they receive appropriate legal process requiring them to identify users who republished the information. EFF has called on other service providers to make the same promise to notify users that Twitter has made, so that if a “super injunction” hits any other service providers, users can take steps to protect themselves.

Unlike Khan, Jonsdottir protested. In March, a U.S. magistrate ruled against individual privacy and for government secrecy:

A federal magistrate judge in Virginia ruled today that the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to WikiLeaks, and that those users and the public can be prevented from seeing some of the documents that the government submitted to the court to justify obtaining their records

The decision was appealed. Oral arguments before a Virginia district court in April were cancelled. Twitter has not released any personal information or tweets in this case, which is playing out in the U.S. courts.

Like The Telegraph reporters, I am not a laywer.

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By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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