For the first time, the American social networking site Twitter has bowed to a court action brought by a British group complaining that they were libelled in messages.
The individuals who brought the legal action were councillors and officials at a local authority, South Tyneside. They launched the case in an attempt to unmask an anonymous whistle-blower who calls himself Mr Monkey.
The action is believed to have cost council tax payers hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The unprecedented ruling has prompted a row over freedom of speech, with experts warning that it may lead to a flood of actions by lawyers in other cases seeking to obtain personal information about people who breach super-injunctions or post
libellous messages on Twitter. Related Articles
week that it would not seek to protect users' confidential information when legally required to hand it over. He said the most the company could do was to inform users before it released their details, to give them a chance to challenge the
rulings in court.
In their attempt to unmask Mr Monkey, the South Tyneside councillors and officials went to court in California, where Twitter is based. The court granted the order after it was told, by lawyers for the council, that messages posted on the
accounts had been libellous.
Since 2008 Mr Monkey has levelled allegations against councillors ranging from ballot-rigging, drug-taking and fiddling expenses to a claim that one successfully ordered a public bus to turn around and pick him up from a pub late at night.
The first Briton to have his Twitter identity forcibly revealed by a court is seeking to sue the council that blew his anonymity and force a judicial review of the case.
A review could have implications for whistleblowing websites and for a council that used public funds to unmask a perceived detractor.
In April, South Tyneside Council won an order from the Superior Court of California forcing Twitter to release details about four accounts. The council claimed the information, including contact details and IP addresses, could reveal who is
behind the Mr Monkey blog, which it claimed was spreading libellous comments.
South Tyneside Councillor Ahmed Khan admits being the owner of one of the Twitter accounts, but maintains he is not Mr Monkey .
South Tyneside Council has already spent about £ 75,000 on the case. Khan is looking into the possibility of forcing a legal review into the misuse of public funds.
Khan is waiting for a court decision before taking further legal action.