Parliament call for privacy curbs on Twitter and Google

  • Attorney General urged to pursue Twitter users who breach privacy injunctions
  • Reports says the internet is not ‘ungoverned by the law’
  • New legislation recommended to stop Google being a ‘vehicle to breach the law’

On the day a student was jailed for posting racist comments on Twitter a Parliamentary committee urged the Attorney General to pursue contempt of court actions against users of social networking sites.

Yesterday 21-year-old Swansea University student Liam Stacey was jailed for 56 days over a series of racist comments made after footballer Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest last week.

It coincided with a report from the Joint Committee on Privacy Injunctions that said the Attorney General should be ‘more willing’to bring contempt actions against privacy injunction breaches made on social networks.

The committee was responding to the episode last year in which an estimated 75,000 users named Ryan Giggs as the Premiership footballer who obtained an injunction banning publication of details surrounding his alleged affair with model Imogen Thomas.

The committee admitted there were no easy solutions to controlling online breaches but said there were ‘a number of practical steps’that could be taken.

The biggest obstacle was the ‘cross-jurisdictional nature of the internet’and the ability to post anonymously, though the committee felt these were ‘not always insurmountable”.

‘Action can be taken to determine the identity of individuals behind Twitter accounts, and Twitter will hand over the information of account holders when presented with a valid court order,’it said.

Enforcement options

It noted action taken against Twitter users in a number of recent cases including prosecutions for racist abuse and hoax bomb threats, while Facebook users had also been tracked down for incitement to riot.

‘The internet is not, therefore, ungoverned by the law, or without enforcement options,’the report said.

Under the current system proceedings for civil contempt of court can be brought by the Attorney General in his role as Guardian of the Public Interest.

The committee claimed the ‘single most effective measure’for enforcing an injunction that had been widely flouted was for the Attorney General to bring an action for contempt.

But when he gave evidence to the committee the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, stressed this was a ‘reserve power’that would be used only in exceptional circumstances.

In response the committee said the threshold for Grieve should be lower to provide a ‘strong deterrent against future such breaches”.

It also recommended that when granting an injunction courts should be ‘proactive in directing the claimant to serve notice’on sites like Twitter and Facebook.

It urged claimants to make full use of notice and take-down procedures operated by social media providers, noting how Twitter had a new policy allowing it to filter content on an ‘in-country’basis when it receives a court order from an authorised entity, allowing it block content in one country but leave it open to others.

The committee’s finding come in the same week that former New Zealand cricket captain Chris Cairns won £90,000 libel damages over an accusation of match-fixing made on Twitter.

Legislate Google?

Yesterday’s report was also critical of Google’s failure to take down material that breached of privacy injunctions.

During its evidence sessions it heard from Max Mosley, who described attempts to get Google to remove ‘offending pictures from its image search facility”.

The committee concluded: ‘Where an individual has obtained a clear court order that certain material infringes their privacy and so should not be published we do not find it acceptable that he or she should have to return to court repeatedly in order to remove the same material from internet searches.

‘Google acknowledged that it was possible to develop the technology proactively to monitor websites for such material in order that the material does not appear in the results of searches.

‘We find their objections in principle to developing such technology totally unconvincing. Google and other search engines should take steps to ensure that their websites are not used as vehicles to breach the law and should actively develop and use such technology.

‘We recommend that if legislation is necessary to require them to do so it should be introduced.”

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *