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 forinjunction, 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 .
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