Twitter is at the center of a UK-sparked battle over courts, so-called super injunctions, and social media conversations which apparently cannot be curtailed by either.
What's a "super injunction," you might ask? The term has come into the public arena following two recent UK court cases, in which judges prohibit naming public figures involved in scandals, with at least three cases, two involving former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO Fred Goodwin and Manchester United soccer player Ryan Giggs.
British politician John Hemming was rebuked by the House speaker for naming Giggs (and his affair with Imogen Thomas), because the soccer star had won an injunction prohibiting the media from naming him.
But what about social media? Outing Giggs on Twitter quickly became something of a parlor game, as tweeting and retweeting the gossip swept the site.
"With about 75,000 people having named Ryan Giggs on Twitter, it's obviously impractical to imprison them all," said Hemming, citing the tweets as reason to lift the British court's publishing ban.
UK newspaper publishers duly appealed to the court to lift Gigg’s injunction, and when the judge refused, the papers reported on Hemming’s comments in parliament.
“It’s a farcical situation,” commented London lawyer Niri Shan, head of the media practice at Taylor Wessing LLP, to Bloomberg. “The judge is saying one thing and people are popping up in Parliament and saying another. It’s a battle between Parliament and the courts.”
In the case of Frederick Goodwin, CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, when it collapsed and was bailed out with £20 billion of taxpayer money, Goodwin received an exit pension worth a half million dollars annually.
Turns out Sir Fred, knighted by the Queen in 2004 for his services to banking, had an affair with an RBS colleague that may have swayed his business acumen. When a member of parliament referred to the affair, and the newspapers were about to break the story, Sir Fred got a court injunction barring them from doing so.
“The injunction not only prohibited any reporting about the relationship. It barred any reporting that Goodwin had sought an injunction. The media could not even report that a 'banker' had sought an injunction. He was referred to in court papers as MNB,” according to The Atlantic.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will set up a joint committee of the House of Commons and the House of Lords to review U.K. privacy laws.
Meanwhile, the number of gag orders has been steadily rising since Formula One President Max Mosley’s 2008 win that his privacy was violated by a news story about a Nazi-themed sex party.
According to an investigation by The Daily Telegraph, over 80 "gagging" orders have been issued in the last six years, more than 18 so far this year, with injunctions sought by nine soccer players, nine actors, six businessmen and women, a civil servant, and a member of parliament – most often for sexual indiscretions.
In the US, meanwhile, some are already wondering how the British legal protection might have applied to Arnold Schwarzenegger's scandal that broke up his marriage.
The whole thing has opened up a much-needed public debate about digital privacy — for celebrities and common folk, and not just among specialists such as the EFF, which ponders such issues daily — in this transparent age of social sharing.
With celebrity talk show host Ellen DeGeneres attempting to protect her privacy and rights by boycotting Twitpic — over fears any images she uploaded via the Twitter app would be sold — it's a debate, clearly, that has just begun.