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South Tyneside defends Twitter action

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A council has defended its legal fight to unmask a blogger amid reports Twitter has handed British users’ details over to the local authority following a court order.

South Tyneside MBC, which is based in South Shields, has been pursuing legal action against a blogger known as Mr Monkey, who has levelled a stream of criticisms and false allegations against councillors and council officers.

The council issued subpoenas in California to get Twitter to reveal details about a number of accounts as part of this libel investigation.

The Sunday Telegraph said this demand has been successful - a move which some commentators believe could have wider consequences for celebrities wanting to track down Twitter users who have broken privacy injunctions.

But a spokesman for South Tyneside Council said he could not confirm that the US action had been successful.

He said: “This legal action was initiated by the council’s previous chief executive and has continued with the full support of the council’s current chief executive.

“The council has a duty of care to protect its employees and as this blog contains damaging claims about council officers, legal action is being taken to identify those responsible.”

Independent South Tyneside councillor and local businessman David Potts said the action was very necessary. He said: “It’s justified and we needed to do this.

“We have a duty to look after our employees. It is not a case of politicians not wanting to be criticised. I don’t mind being criticised. I’ve got a thick skin. But this blog is perverted, sleazy, sick, filthy and is full of sordid lies.”

Cllr Potts said not only had he been a victim of the blog other politicians across the party spectrum, regional leaders and council officers were as well. He said the false things printed about him have had an impact on his family.

The councillor said the person behind the blog was a coward and the council’s lawyers were right to try and use his Twitter account to link him to potentially libellous statements.

The council’s Labour leader, Iain Malcolm, who has also been a target of Mr Monkey, was not available for comment.

Media lawyer Steve Kuncewicz said he thought the council’s case was significant from a “point of principle” perspective but doubted it would have much impact on the legal bid by a footballer involved in the privacy injunction row to get Twitter to release details.

He said this was because the council’s case was launched under Californian law whereas the soccer player’s action was in a UK court.

Mr Kuncewicz, from the Manchester firm Gateley, said: “Yes, this is a very big deal - but it’s only significant in relation to US law and not ours.”

He added: “There’s no white flag being waved by Twitter just yet.”

Independent South Tyneside councillor Ahmed Khan confirmed he had been informed by Twitter that it was handing over his details to the local authority.

He said Twitter first contacted him about the subpoena in April.

Cllr Khan said he was told he had 21 days to lodge a legal argument against the action otherwise the details would be released.

He said it was “just not feasible” for him to mount a challenge in a Californian court.

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