The council of South Tyneside has successfully obtained the details of multiple Twitter accounts, which the council claims were used to post libellous messages. Officials were pushed to take the company to court in its native California, where a judge ruled that the perpetrators (who were based in Britain) had no protection from Twitter. The company was forced to hand over its data on five different accounts.
The news comes during a storm of controversy in the celebrity world, where the holders of "super-injunctions" are being outed through the social networking site. Speaking to The Telegraph, Amber Melville-Brown, a media law specialist consultant, said:
This case concerning serious allegations about South Tyneside councillors could have significant repercussions across the blogosphere. With Twitter quietly assisting in the process, the case could have an equally significant impact on future applications by those seeking to protect their privacy and reputation anywhere in the world, as a result of activity on Twitter.
The council are hoping to track down a "Mr Monkey", who has been blogging about the council since 2008. Accusations are far-reaching and include drug misuse, ballott rigging, and even a story of a councillor making a public bus turn around and pick him up from the pub. The allegations made their jump to Twitter in 2009.
Ahmed Khan is one of the Twitter account owners. An independent councillor, Khan denies links to the "Mr Monkey" account but also questions the impact the ruling has on free speech. "If a council can take this kind of action against one of its own councillors simply because they don’t like what I say, what hope is there for freedom of speech or privacy?", he said.