French Court Rules Twitter Must Hand Over User Identifying Data of Those Posting Racist Tweets

Twitter has been ordered by a French court to give user data for anti-semetic tweets but its policy doesn’t release data except under U.S. court order. (Photo: Annette Shaff/Shutterstock)

Twitter has been ordered by a French court to hand over the names and other identifying data of users issuing tweets deemed racist.

AFP reported that the ruling given Thursday came after months in court with the case brought on in October by France’s Union of Jewish Students (UEJF). UEJF’s position was that some tweets, especially those with the hashtag #unbonjuif (#agoodjew), were violating French law.

The New York Times reported that it is unclear if Twitter will comply with the order to supply the user data, which is against the company’s own rules to do except under court order in the United States since that is where the data is stored. Twitter announced last year that it would remove content from its site that it is in violation of a country’s laws, but that content may remain posted in other countries where it is not in violation.

The court order speaks of a larger issue though. As French lawyer Françoise Gilbert put it to the New York Times, it shows “how difficult it can be for companies doing business around the world.”

Here’s more on this larger issue from the Times:

The French case is also part of a brewing fight between the United States and Europe over the data controlled by American Web companies and stored in the cloud. European lawmakers worry about American companies sharing data about Europeans with the United States government under American laws that authorize surveillance on foreign citizens. This case flips that objection on its head, with European authorities seeking information on its citizens from an American company.

Chris Wolf, an American lawyer who was in Brussels this week at a conference debating European data protection laws, said it was proving difficult to interpret jurisdiction laws in the digital age.

He offered a paper analogy. If French authorities sought access to files stored in an American company’s offices in Paris, they could physically get their hands on the material and use it in a court of law.

“The physical presence of a thing or a person have always been major factors in determining which government has the right to have its rules applied,” Mr. Wolf said. “The power to access data makes physical location of evidence irrelevant.”

AFP pointed out that the lawsuit by UEJF was launched just after the anti-semetic attacks by the Islamic extremist Mohamed Merah who killed seven people, three of whom were children, in Toulouse last March.

“This is a decision made Vintage Historical French court has today,” Jonathan Hayoun, president of UEJF, said in a statement (translated by Google Translate. ”She reminded the victims of racism and anti-Semitism that they are not alone, and that the French law that forbids must apply everywhere [...].”

In other French Twitter-related news, the academy in the country dedicated to proper use of the French language has created a new word for hashtag: mot-diese.

Pronounced `Mo-Dee-YEZ’, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. But that’s not the point. French law requires that government agencies use French terms – and teachers are required to spread the word. New words are approved by the Academie Francaise and written into the lawbooks.

The French word for hashtag, published in the official journal on Wednesday, follows the government’s somewhat successful redefinition of email – courriel – and its less successful attempt to persuade people to avoid the word “weekend.”

Featured image by Annette Shaff via Shutterstock.com

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.