Twitter will seek to notify its users so they can defend themselves before it hands over user information to the authorities, a senior manager said on Wednesday when asked about a privacy dispute in Britain.
“Platforms should have responsibility not to defend the user, but to protect that user’s right to defend him or herself,” said Tony Wang, general manager of Twitter’s European operations.
Users have posted details on Twitter of celebrity scandals, in contravention of so-called super injunctions.
Super injunctions, issued by English courts, ban media outlets from mentioning not only the details of the case and the identities of those involved but even the existence of the injunction itself.
Breaching the order would put someone in contempt of court, liable to an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison.
Mainstream media organizations have reluctantly obeyed such court orders, but in recent weeks a string of identities have leaked, largely via Twitter and the wider Internet — in an echo of the unsuccessful attempts to suppress the publication of WikiLeaks cables on the Internet.
Lawyers representing one of the celebrities named, Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs, have asked U.S.-based Twitter via a London court for information about the users who published his name in tweets.
Wang, who was speaking at the e-G8 Internet forum in Paris, said he could not comment specifically on the cases in Britain, but said: “If we’re legally required to turn over user information, to the extent that we can, we want to notify the user involved, let them know and let them exercise their rights under their own jurisdiction.
“That’s not to say that they will ultimately prevail, that’s not to say that law enforcement doesn’t get the information they need, but what it does do is take that process into the court of law and let it play out there.”
A British politician identified Giggs on Monday in parliament as the soccer star fighting a legal battle to prevent newspapers publishing allegations of an affair.
John Hemming, who campaigns for press freedom, used parliamentary privilege, which allows parliamentarians to raise legal issues without fear of prosecution.
Hemming said he had acted after lawyers asked for information about Twitter users. “If you are going to have an expensive firm of lawyers chasing down ordinary people, with a view to threatening them with a jail sentence because they have gossiped about a footballer, that is fundamentally wrong,” he told BBC television.