29 May 2011

Council goes to US to force Twitter to unmask Mr Monkey

Twitter user Mr Monkey has upset a group of UK councillors so much that they have gone to California in a bid to go one better than Ryan Giggs and force Twitter to hand over details of its users.

Newspapers have reported that the council has already won the case, opening the door for other celebrities to track down Twitter users who have broken privacy injunctions

A local authority has defended itself after spending thousands of pounds on a legal battle to force Twitter to unmask a blogger.

South Tyneside Council took the unprecedented step of issuing subpoenas at a court in California to get the micro-blogging site to reveal details about a number of accounts linked to a user who blogs under the alias Mr Monkey.

Independent South Shields councillor Ahmed Khan is suspected of being the author of the blog, which has made a series of allegations against leading members of the council.

Mr Khan, who denies being the author of the blog, said Twitter told him in April that a request had been lodged relating to his account and messages he had sent.

This isn’t flak, it’s a hate campaign. Councillor David Potts

Newspapers have reported that the council has already won the case, opening the door for other celebrities to track down Twitter users who have broken privacy injunctions.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Ryan Giggs attempt to obtain details of individuals who named him on Twitter as the holder of an injunction, but the High Court ruling calling on the company to release details of Twitter users who broke the injunction had no legal force in the US, where the company is based.

Until now, Twitter has declined to release information about its users, although its privacy policy says it is prepared to do so if faced with a legal request.

The company said it could not comment on indivual requests from courts. And South Tyneside Council nor councillor Khan could not confirm that the legal action had in fact been successful.

The case was brought by three councillors and one senior official: Ian Malcolm, the council’s Labour leader Ian Malcolm, former Conservative group leader David Potts, Labour member Anne Walsh and council officer Rick O’Farrell, head of enterprise and regeneration.

They sought a ruling ordering Twitter to release contact details, location information and computer addresses of individuals using the Twitter accounts @fatcouncillor, @cllrdavidpotts, @councillorahmedkhan, @councillorkhan and @ahmedkhan01, saying libellous messages had been posted using them.

Mr Potts said: “We are public figures and we expect to take flak. But this isn’t flak, it’s a hate campaign.”

He added: “This is not a waste of taxpayers’ money. When we recover damages – and we will – I will hand over every penny to the borough.”

A council spokesman said: “This legal action was initiated by the council’s previous chief executive and has continued with the full support of the council’s current chief executive.

“The council has a duty of care to protect its employees and as this blog contains damaging claims about council officers, legal action is being taken to identify those responsible.”

Media law experts say the action, if successful, may prompt more British citizens to take action in the US.

Mr Khan said: “I believe that Twitter has helped me engage with local residents. It’s helped local residents air some of their problems and concerns, which I have been able to deal with.

“Often, they have aired those problems and concerns, wanting to remain anonymous. This action by the council, in forcing Twitter to release my details, could potentially put that kind of relationship in jeopardy.”