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An injunction by  a married footballer to  hide an  alleged affair has tipped  the issue of Internet free speech into mainstream British news. But is it really about Article 10 rights, or about  maintaining a flow of scandal to protect  Rupert Murdoch's income? 

 

Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper is an unlikely campaigner for Internet freedom, as is its former editor Kelvin MacKenzie.  Yet today it ran the headline  "Nitwit hits Twitter with writ"  and Mr Mackenzie was on BBC Radio 4 pointing out the information travels freely on the Internet,  and you cannot deny freedom of speech.

 

What is causing all the fuss is an injunction which  has been filed in the British courts against Twitter, asking it to reveal personal details of certain users. The injunction has been taken out on behalf of an anonymous British footballer, who is seeking to hide details of an alleged extra-marital  affair. The details have been allegedly revealed in Tweets by those users.

 

I know nothing about football, but  if  you go to Twitter and search for

 injunction, writ, or superinijunction,  you will soon see a large number of tweets on the subject of freedom of expression and a name mentioned in a hashtag. I suspect that this particular privacy battle is a bit of a waste of time - shutting the proverbial stable door after the horse has bolted - but it could portend many more attempts to use court injunctions to silence free speech online.

 

The case is complicated by the fact that the British newspapers have sought to publish the details  but have been prevented from doing so by a so-called ‘superinjunction' which prevents publication and protects the name of the claimant.

 

The injunction against Twitter  is seeking the names and contact details of the user (s) who first tweeted details of the allegations and thus arguably  were in breach of  the injunction. Meanwhile, the newspapers cannot publish any of the details which have been circulated on Twitter.

 

It has set the lawyers arguing.  Lawyers for the anonymous footballer argue that it's in the Twitter contract that usersmust give valid contact details, and that Twitter reserves the right to divulge those details if requested.

 

Julian Assange's solicitor, Mark Stephens ,  argues that a  US companies have no obligation to comply with writ issued by a British court, and that the claimants need to go to California to do it.

 

 Some British media are positioning it as a battle between Internet users and the judiciary. But is it really Internet users who are whipping up this campaign, or - given the myriad of 'big media' articles on this topic - the newspapers who live off this kind of scandal? 

We have seen campaigns for Internet freedom which genuininely were user-led - such as the Telecoms Package campaign by La Quadrature du Net and others. And there is a real issue here for the future of free speech online, if injunctions can be readily obtained by the rich and powerful to silence users. But somehow, I don't see Kelvin MacKenzie or any Sun journalists really fighting for  citizens' rights, rather they want to maintain a flow of sleazy storiesl which sells their newspapers.  

 

The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2011) Twitter injunction:  users v judges in battle for free speech?  http://www.iptegrity.com 19  May 2011 .  

 This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten, European expert on Internet policy and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She is an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on Cross-border flow of Internet traffic and Internet freedom (MSI-INT). She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012. Iptegrity  offers expert insights into Internet policy. Iptegrity has a core readership in the Brussels policy community, and has been cited in the media. Please acknowledge Iptegrity when you cite or link.  For more, see IP politics with integrity

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