Mike Isaac

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Twitter Hands Over User Data to French Authorities in Anti-Semitism Case

hashtag_twitterUpdate at 12:24 PT clarifying the nature of the settlement out of court.

In an apparent end to ongoing litigation with an activist group and the French authorities, Twitter settled out of court with a request from a French activist group on Friday, handing over some data on users involved in tweeting a series of anti-Semitic statements in 2012.

“Further to discussions between the Parties and in response to a valid legal request, Twitter has provided the prosecutor of Paris, Presse et Libertés Publiques section of the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance, with data that may enable the identification of certain users that the Vice-Prosecutor believes have violated French law,” a Twitter spokesman said in a joint statement with the Union of Jewish Students, a French activist group.

Twitter’s decision comes after a drawn-out battle with the UEJF, which demanded that Twitter identify a number of accounts and users who tweeted anti-Semitic remarks attached to a hashtag, #unbonjuif, last year. While Twitter trumpets its ability to bring free speech to the world, France has laws specifically banning anti-Semitic speech.

Twitter’s stance thus far has been to defend its users’ speech and data against most outside parties, unless it comes in the form of a “valid legal request” from a state government. Twitter said it will comply with laws at a local level — as the company did in a case involving “offensive tweets” and censorship in Germany last year — but only limit that compliance to the countries in question.

So in the German case, for example, Twitter blocked certain neo-Nazi accounts which violated local anti-Semitism laws, but made those accounts visible to the public outside of Germany in countries that did not have those same restrictions.

“This disclosure puts an end to the dispute between the Parties, which have agreed to actively continue contributing together to the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, in keeping with their respective domestic laws and regulations, such as by taking measures to improve the accessibility of the reporting procedure of illegal Tweets,” Twitter’s statement said.

France’s public prosecutor will now have both the offensive tweets — which Twitter originally deleted last year after complaints — and the data on users who tweeted them, and the state can decide if it wants to pursue prosecution.

There’s some contention that Twitter is caving to outside demands on turning over user data, especially in the face of a $50 million lawsuit from the UEJF. But the microblogging service has skirted much of that criticism by sticking to the letter of the local law within the countries in question.

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