French Court Orders Twitter to Disclose User Identities

Abstract: In the latest installment of an on-going controversy, a French court orders Twitter to disclose the names of the users responsible for anti-Semitic tweets.

We have written here before about Twitter’s ongoing discussions with the French government about the extent to which Twitter should censor Tweets or ban users. The Berkman Center’s Digital Media Law Project has also featured some excellent writing on this topic by Marie-Andree Weiss, most recently in early January.

Twitter, a U.S.–based company informed by U.S. free speech ideals, wasn’t always eager to comply with French law when it came to censoring its users.

However, just a few months ago, in light of their decision to begin censoring tweets on a country-by-country basis, in line with local law, and following doing just that in Germany, Twitter began to restrict access to tweets with a few specific Anti-Semitic hashtags. This was in response to the requests and criticisms of French student group Union of Jewish Students (UEJF), to comply with French law, which is far more stringent than U.S. law when it comes to hate speech, especially that which is racially or religiously motivated.

However, this was seen by the UJEF as inadequate, who also wanted the identities of the Twitter users in question to be revealed. UJEF took the matter to a French court in November 2012. That court, the Tribunal de Grande Instance, with judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud writing, today ordered that "within the framework of its French site" > Twitter must disclose the user identity information within 15 days or face serious and ongoing fines, as well as “criminal responsibility.” Twitter was also ordered to put better reporting mechanisms into place to allow user complaints about objectionable content. It isn’t clear from the order why the existing mechanisms are inadequate.

Also noteworthy is that the court rejected a related request concerning homophobic tweets, saying they weren’t specific or forceful enough.

Twitter argued at the January hearing that because the data is stored within the U.S., and they are a U.S. company, the order must at the least be ratified by a U.S. court, since to comply otherwise would utterly eviscerate the protections of the United States’ First Amendment. The counterargument was that to allow Twitter to act internationally as it would in the U.S. was to extend the protections of the U.S. 1st amendment worldwide.

Chilling Effects will be following this story closely.

This post was originally published on: Chillingeffects. Written by Adam Holland
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