British Press Laws Facing Twitter Challenge

Twitter is providing user info to authorities trying to keep a lid on celebrity gossip

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British lawyers are calling on the judiciary to take action after a Twitter user leaked details about 14 alleged gagging orders in the United Kingdom. Launched yesterday and drawing nearly 2,000 followers in just a few hours, the account @Legal_AIDS named celebrities and athletes who had filed for injunctions in order protect themselves from press coverage of would be scandals and linked back to court documents showing the legal action. In the U.K. injunction laws have been under attack this month after footballer Ryan Giggs sued Twitter for the account details of users who had tweeted rumor of his alleged affair with reality TV star Imogen Thomas that was protected by a superinjunction. The new injunction-breaching tweeter used the Anonymous mask as an avatar and deleted the tweets soon after posting them. (It's also worth pointing out that the British papers reviewed for this post all failed to name the Twitter user, presumably so as not to be implicated in the breaching of any injunctions.)

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales--intensely authoritative title and all--has taken a hard line on this latest Twitter-fueled assault on privacy. While conceding to a judicial committee's recommendations that the very restrictive "superinjunctions" only be issued in extreme circumstances and for short periods of time, Lord Judge committed to upholding injunctions when issued and lambasted modern technology's role in degrading citizens' right to privacy. "Are you really going to say that someone who has a true claim for protection perfectly well made has to be at the mercy of modern technology?" he asked The Guardian. "I'm not giving up on the possibility that people who peddle lies about others through using technology may one day be brought under control, maybe through damages, very substantial damages, maybe even injunctions to stop them peddling lies."

According to the Daily Telegraph, yesterday's latest leak came just hours after Twitter caved to court pressure and released the names of five users who published the early tweets outing Giggs' affair with Thomas. The user who allegedly sent the first tweet breaking the injunction, James Webley, faces jail time, and the court's ability to force Twitter to disclose user information has reportedly unleashed a flood of new actions by lawyers seeking names of anonymous users in order to sue them. Meanwhile, here in freedom-loving America, the Pentagon announced today that cyber attacks from foreign countries could be interpreted as acts of war. It's unclear whether leaking rumors on Twitter counts.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.