Twitter Faces "Super-Injunction" Challenge Over User Privacy

Thousands of Twitter users have posted comments about a rumored affair between a British soccer player and a reality-TV star, and have included the athlete’s name, despite a British law that allows individuals to get a “super-injunction” blocking publication of their name. The player has now used that injunction to get a court order demanding that Twitter reveal the account information of users who’ve posted his name.

Twitter refused to comment on the case, which is based on an order by the British High Court. However, the company has previously fought such cases, citing U.S. law that it believes limits its liability and control over user-generated content: “We tell them, we’re a U.S. company, we have [Communications Decency Act] 230 here, and you’re welcome to come and try your hand at suing us here,” Twitter general counsel Alex Macgillivray said at a conference in March.

In January, co-founder Biz Stone and Macgillivray posted a statement on the company blog pointing out:

Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed. While we may need to release information as required by law, we try to notify Twitter users before handing over their information whenever we can so they have a fair chance to fight the request if they so choose.

While British media companies have been obligated to honor the terms of the super-injunction, Twitter is far from the only international business that has revealed the soccer-player’s name. According to The New York Times, “the soccer player’s name is now so widely known that it has become a running joke, discussed — with the name bleeped out — on prime-time television.”

Legal experts see wider issues for users of social media sites if Twitter is forced to reveal user-account information when foreign courts demand it: “If you step back, that same sort of protection is really vital to have in place when you’re talking about the individuals involved in a revolution or a social movement like the Arab Spring,” media lawyer Thomas R. Burke told The New York Times.

Free Speech and Privacy Rights Collide on Twitter [NYTimes.com]