Last updated: May 29, 2011 7:39 pm

Gossip, not Twitter, toppled gagging order

More people learnt the identity of the footballer behind a recent gagging order by chatting with friends than by using Twitter, according to a survey by TNS.

The researcher found that two in five surveyed claimed to know that it was Ryan Giggs who took out a super-injunction to prevent publication of an alleged affair, before it was revealed by John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP, in parliament last week.

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Of those who already knew, 45 per cent said “word of mouth” was their source, while 31 per cent cited Twitter and 23 per cent said they used Google to find the details online.

Twitter, the California-based messaging site, has found itself at the heart of a legal battle over users that have broken the terms of the super-injunction.

The footballer’s solicitors are seeking to obtain from Twitter the private details of individuals behind an unspecified number of accounts. The site last week missed a deadline to comply without apparently handing over the information.

The case has highlighted the awkward position for internet companies that face legal action to hand over users’ data and the problems for UK courts holding sway on companies outside their jurisdiction.

In another UK case, hailed by some lawyers as setting a precedent, Twitter did hand over information from a handful of accounts at the legal request of South Tyneside council officials.

As part of an attempt to unmask a whistleblower who they claimed was posting libellous information online, the officials took their request to the courts in California, something the footballer’s solicitors do not yet appear to have done.

When Twitter contacted one affected user, opposition councillor Ahmed Khan, he said he did not contest the order.

“I had no knowledge of US law and was wary of the costs involved. I would have had to fund any action myself,” Mr Khan said on Twitter in response to questions by Kathy Gill of the University of Washington , about a story published by the Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Khan said he was notified of the disclosure order on April 15 and the details were released on May 5. Fighting the case could have cost up to £500,000, he said. Ms Gill said that the case differed substantially from that of the footballer, because no super-injunction was in place and Mr Khan acquiesced to the disclosure order.

South Tyneside council told the local Shields Gazette newspaper that the action had its full support and that the authority had a “duty of care” to protect its employees from “damaging claims”. Mr Khan denies any wrongdoing.

Twitter did not comment on the case.

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