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    Washington Post: Twitter vs. privacy in Britain

    The Washington Post discusses the issue of online privacy and how its being tested in Britain. One prominent case concerns married soccer star Ryan Giggs, who “won an injunction that barred London’s feisty tabloids from publishing his name in connection with a dalliance. But then the users of Twitter rose up like a Greek chorus, dispatching electronic missives that unmasked Griggs as the Don Juan of the pitch.”

    With a barrage of tweets, social media users are blasting holes in a system that has long shielded Britain’s rich and famous from scandal, leaving the powerful and naughty here quaking in their Gucci loafers. In one assault, a Twitter vigilante last week named names and released the lurid misadventures of a whole new batch of British celebrities and politicians allegedly holding media gag orders.

    The challenge has left British judges and wronged parties scrambling for ways to hold new media accountable. Last week, one British town used the California legal system to force San Francisco-based Twitter to release the names of four users who allegedly libeled its council members. And while Giggs’s paramour has confirmed the affair, the soccer star is using the London court system to go after anonymous Twitter users in what may end up being a test case. […]

    The debate here is casting a light on what critics call Britain’s excessive privacy laws. Meant as a tool to defend reputations in the face of an aggressive tabloid press, an injunction effectively prevents libel or infringement of privacy before it happens for those who can afford the legal firepower needed to win one.

    They are a public figure’s dream, stopping scandal in its tracks […]

    Giggs’s lawyers declined to comment, as did Twitter officials in San Francisco. But Giggs, court officials said, has filed a lawsuit in London seeking to force Twitter to hand over details of the anonymous users who named him. But underscoring the difficulty of regulating a social media network made up of millions of independent users worldwide, legal experts are calling his chances of success a long shot.

    Under legal duress, Twitter has been known to disclose the names of users — a possibility outlined in its terms and conditions — in specific cases involving alleged crimes that could violate U.S. law. But Britain’s media gag orders, scholars say, has no clear parallel in U.S. law, making it difficult to see how a London court could compel the company to release the names of users who defied it.

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