Posted on July 12, 2013

Twitter Agrees to Hand over Details of People Who Post Racist or Anti-Semitic Comments After French Legal Battle

Peter Allen, Daily Mail (London), July 12, 2013

Twitter has agreed to hand over the details of people who post racist and anti-Semitic abuse anonymously on the micro-blogging site, it emerged today.

Following a long legal battle, the US-based company said it would cooperate with authorities in France who want to bring alleged criminals to justice.

The breakthrough is a significant test case for the millions who use social media to express hatred and anger without revealing their identities.

Prosecutors in Paris argued that Twitter had a duty to expose wrong-doers, despite its insistence that people had a right to anonymity.

In October 2012, Jewish student bodies asked Twitter to remove a number of messages which appeared under the hashtag #unbonjuif (#agoodjew), with some users posting examples such as: ‘#agoodjew is a dead Jew.’

France has a number of strict laws aimed at combating hate crimes.

The Union of Jewish Students of France (UEJF) and three other similar groups took Twitter to court asking them to hand over the names of all those responsible so they can be prosecuted.

‘Because it does not take the necessary measures to identify where the tweets come from, Twitter is offering a platform to racism and anti-Semitism,’ said Jonathan Hayoun, the UEJF president.

Stephane Lilti, counsel for the Jewish complainants, suggested Twitter had a ‘commercial interest’ in protecting the anonymity of its users.

‘Twitter is playing a commercial game by raising a number of legal hurdles to not having to comply with its legal obligations,’ he told the court.

But Twitter lawyer Alexandre Neri originally argued that the company was only subject to US law and only a judge in America could force it to release the information.

Mr Neri told the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris that Twitter ‘data is collected and stored in the United States’–namely in San Francisco, where the site is based.

‘Should I submit myself to the law of a different country to where I work?’ he asked.

He added that the differences between French and US laws on freedom of speech have created a ‘huge void, a question mark’.

But AFP, France’s national news agency, today confirmed that Twitter had agreed to cooperate with the judgement, and would hand over the coordinates of those responsible for the tweets.

A Twitter spokesman said: ‘Further to discussions between the parties and in response to a valid legal request, Twitter has provided the prosecutor of Paris, Presse et Libertés Publiques section of the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance, with data that may enable the identification of certain users that the Vice-Prosecutor believes have violated French law.

‘This disclosure puts an end to the dispute between the parties, which have agreed to actively continue contributing together to the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, in keeping with their respective domestic laws and regulations, such as by taking measures to improve the accessibility of the reporting procedure of illegal tweets.’

Last year Twitter shut down an account run by a German neo-Nazi group based in Hanover, following a request by German police. Facebook and YouTube complied with similar requests.