Twitter could block super-injunction tweets
Published 31/01/2012 | 08:28
TWITTER could bar British users from reading tweets that break future celebrity super-injunctions, a senior executive from the web firm has told politicans.
Colin Crowell, Twitter’s head of global public policy, said a new system to restrict access to unlawful tweets on a country-by-country basis could be triggered if British users discuss gagging orders.
It means foreign Twitter users would be able to read tweets naming super-injunction holders but British users would be prevented.
It follows the identification by tens of thousands of Twitter users of the footballer Ryan Giggs as the holder of a super-injunction, in defiance of a High Court ruling.
Mr Crowell however told the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions that the firm’s new policy “wasn’t with any particular issue or particular country in mind”.
“I don’t pretend to know exactly how an injunction process would work,” he said, adding that “we would need to receive some notice presumably".
"But the policy as we announced was when we received a request [for censorship] from an authorised entity we will deal with those."
"Our policy is, now that we have the ability to cater things to a particular jurisdiction, is to work through that on a case-by-case basis."
To date Twitter has never received a super-injunction from the British courts, Mr Crowell added.
Under its new system for restricting access to tweets, Twitter will still allow users to post any 140-character message they want online. However, if a tweet is reported by an "authorised entity" as in violation of local laws Twitter will restrict it so it is accessible only by international followers. The firm said it will notify both the writer and their followers it has intervened and tell them why.
"We will seek to notify the user promply that some authorised entity has requested that the tweet be witheld," Mr Crowell told the Committee.
"We will also be transparent to other users in that jurisdiction, we won't simply surreptitiously delete it."
The Committee was created in May to consider changes to privacy law, after the Prime Minister said the situation was “unsustainable” and should “catch up with how people consume media today".
Ryan Giggs was one of several celebrity super-injunction holders to be widely identified on Twitter but could not be named by other media until an MP used parliamentary privilege to break the gagging order.
Mr Crowell said the new censorship system was being introduced as a result of the six-year-old service’s rapid international growth and would allow it to recognise the “contours” of free expression.
"Trying to deal with it from one ubiquitous policy in the United States isn't going to work well in the different countries," he said.
Twitter previously applied United States laws on free expression to all its more than 300 million users. It has cited German laws against Nazi material as an example of the local sensitivities it aims to respect, but critics have warned that repressive governments could exploit the new system to clamp down on dissent.
Free communication via Twitter and Facebook has been credited with a role in the Arab Spring.