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Friday, May 20, 2011

Beyond irony: Twitter faces Norwich Pharmacal order from famous footballer over super-injunctions

Freedom of expression is butting up against privacy and super-injunctions in the UK. Here's the plot - a month ago, a married footballer wished to hide from the world his prior relationship with a reality TV participant who became a glamour model. He took out a super-injunction, an English judge's privacy and censorship device to prevent both the story itself being published, and also the fact that an injunction had prevented its publication and even the name of the footballer. Hence the 'super' addition to the injunction.
Ms Thomas, the Welsh 'glamour' model, has complained that she cannot cash in on the affair, and the details have been leaked onto Twitter, a Florida-based social networking site. These Tweets have allegedly come from UK-based Tweeters.
The San Francisco company (UPDATE: with Florida servers) is therefore being joined in what is known as a Norwich Pharmacal joint order against Twitter and 'unknown others' (its users who Tweeted his identity), which charges it to reveal the names of the users who may have breached the injunction. Once it has revealed the identities, its liability in the action would be removed.
The super-injunction against the Press would be contrary to the First Amendment to the US Constitution, as well as the immunity from prosecution offered to Internet intermediaries under s.230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996 (Happy 15th birthday CDA!), and therefore Twitter in its own jurisdiction has no liability. Nevertheless, as it has many UK customers and presumably takes some valuation from this addition to its total subscribers (inasmuch as the bubble valuations have any credibility), it may wish to conform to the UK court's instructions. However, that would provide a precedent for litigants and governments from other jurisdictions to chase the company.
Once the details of this case became public (though the footballer has remained anonymous), the alleged identity became exponentially more widely spread on Twitter. Thus he has both enraged all like-minded Twitter followers, and ensured the widest possible publicity for his identity on Twitter. This is what in football we call an 'own goal'.
Twitter now has to decide whether to treat UK super-injunctions and their bullying implementation by judges, as it has bullying attempts to implement more repressive laws against freedom of speech in the Middle East, and US legislators have treated the same English Bar's attempts to enforce libel laws against US citizens.
I would suggest it simply delists all UK celebrities and their followers from Twitter to avoid future actions, beginning with Piers Morgan. Now that would be in the public interest...

1 comment:

pangloss said...

(stolen from Twitter)
[ANFootballer]seeking super injunction? I can't imogen why (bravo)