Tuesday, 8 February 2011

PCC rules republishing tweets not privacy breach

The Press Complaints Commission has made its first ruling about the republication of tweets on Twitter, rejecting complaints of intrusion of privacy against the Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday.

The complainant was a civil servant working at the Department for Transport. The articles reported on a number of messages she had posted on her Twitter account about various aspects of, and her feelings towards, her job.

Both newspapers argued that the complainant's Twitter account was not private. The posts could be read by anyone and not just those individuals who actively chose to follow her. They also argued it was reasonable to highlight the messages in light of the requirements of the civil service code on impartiality. It was also reasonable for newspapers to give a view on whether it was acceptable for the complainant to have talked about such things as being hungover at work and to consider what this said about her judgement.

The PCC , in rejecting the complaints, said it judged the publicly accessible nature of the information was a "key consideration". It was quite clear that the potential audience for the information was actually much larger than the 700 people who followed the complainant directly, not least because any message could easily be retweeted to a wider audience. It also took into account the type of information that had been published by the newspapers, which in this case related directly to the complainant's professional life as a public servant. In all the circumstances, the Commission concluded that the newspapers' actions did not constitute "an unjustifiable intrusion" into the complainant's privacy.

PCC Director Stephen Abell commented: "This is an important ruling by the Commission. As more and more people make use of such social media to publish material related to their lives, the Commission is increasingly being asked to make judgements about what can legitimately be described as private information. In this case, the Commission decided that republication of material by national newspapers, even though it was originally intended for a smaller audience, did not constitute a privacy intrusion."

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