Footballer sues Twitter over gagging injunction

A PREMIERSHIP footballer is suing Twitter and several of its users after information that was supposed to be covered by a super-injunction was published on the micro-blogging site.

The player has lodged papers in the High Court in London against "Twitter Incorporated and persons unknown" in a landmark case that is likely to have massive repercussions for how social networking sites operate.

The footballer, who is referred to as CTB, is also known to be taking action against the Sun newspaper and the ex-Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas, with whom he is alleged to have had an affair.

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Last night, Twitter refused to comment about the legal action. However, papers filed in court show that the footballer is taking action to find out the names of individuals behind some Twitter accounts.

Lawyers representing the player will attempt to prove that in publishing details of his gagging order, Twitter and the individual responsible, breached the terms of the injunction and should be punished.

Ultimately, if found guilty of contempt of court, the US-based company and the "persons unknown" could be fined, have their assets seized or could even go to jail.

The footballer was one of a number of celebrities who were identified by an anonymous user on Twitter earlier this month as having obtained super-injunctions to hide alleged affairs. The list of celebrities has since been forwarded to an estimated two million people. Earlier this month, socialite Jemima Khan was at the centre of what she described as a "nightmare" after it was claimed she had been the subject of a gagging order.

A Twitter account user alleged she had a gagging order preventing "intimate photos" of her with Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson being published. But she refuted the claims, saying the they were "untrue and upsetting".

The account was set up claiming to expose celebrities who were involved in superinjunctions obtained through the courts.

The legal action came to light on the same day that eminent legal figures, under the leadership of Lord Neuberger, published a major review into super-injunctions.

Lord Neuberger warned that modern technology was "totally out of control" and society should consider other ways to bring Twitter and other websites into line with the law.

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Should the unnamed married sportsman succeed in his legal action then it would have a dramatic knock-on effect for the site that has 200 million users.

Given the site's popularity and the enormous number of posts that Twitter hosts, policing all contributions for potentially defamatory comments would be an impossible undertaking. Communications experts believe this latest legal action could have a profound effect on Twitter.

Richard Hillgrove, a publicist who represents clients including Duncan Bannatyne, said: "They are going to have to introduce a delay mechanism so that stuff can be checked before it goes up. There will have to be a completely different structure, which will be difficult when the whole thing about Twitter is its spontaneity.

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"It is a whole new ball game now for Twitter, and it will have to become responsible just like traditional media. The party is over as far as Twitter is concerned."

But there are a number of difficult hurdles to clear before the case can get to that point.

One of the main difficulties lies in the fact that Twitter is based in the United States and is therefore outside of the jurisdiction of the UK courts.

Jennifer McDermott, head of media and public law at Withers LLP, said the case could become a battle between protection of privacy in the UK and America's protection of free speech.

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The footballer's attempt to pursue Twitter through the courts became public last night after the publication of Lord Neuberger's review, which was launched amid growing concern about the increased used of super injunctions to protect celebrities.

Yesterday Lord Neuberger, the second most senior judge in England and Wales, admitted that the internet "does add to difficulties of enforcement at the moment".

He added the internet had "by no means the same degree of intrusion into privacy as the story being emblazoned on the front pages of newspapers", which "people trust more".

His review also led to the most senior judge in England and Wales attacking politicians who deliberately reveal the content of privacy cases covered by injunctions.

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge questioned whether it was a good idea for MPs and Lords to be "flouting a court order just because they disagree with a court order or for that matter because they disagree with the law of privacy which Parliament has created".

His comments were seen by critics as an attempt to censor parliamentary proceedings.

But the Neuberger review of injunctions found that reports of comments made by MPs and peers which set out to contravene court orders may be in contempt of court.

Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, acknowledged that the law surrounding the issue was "astonishingly unclear" – a situation which, he said, was "very unsatisfactory".

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The inquiry was published shortly after the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming recently highlighted two injunction cases in Parliament. Mr Henning asked in the House of Commons about an order obtained by former Royal Bank of Scotland chief Sir Fred Goodwin, which banned the media from calling him a banker, and about another order which banned a constituent from talking to his MP.

A gagging order obtained by Sir Fred was partially lifted by the High Court on Thursday after allegations that the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive had an affair with a senior colleague with a were made public by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham of Droxford in the House of Lords.

In his review, Lord Neuberger warned that reports of comments which intentionally contravene court orders may not be protected by parliamentary privilege.

Last night, Mr Hemming said the review was an "attempt to gag the media in discussing the proceedings in parliament" and was "a retrograde step".

Under new rules for judges, any members of the media about to be the subject of an injunction would be told beforehand.

They would be subject to a confidentiality agreement, but journalists would also have the chance to contest applications before they were granted.

But Lord Judge admitted that bloggers and users of social network sites such as Twitter would not necessarily be covered.

"Modern technology is totally out of control. Anybody can put anything on it," he said.