Press watchdog rules Twitter messages by civil servant not private

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

LONDON - A British civil servant, who claimed invasion of privacy after newspapers published her Twitter messages, has had her complaint rejected by the press regulator.

Sarah Baskerville, an administration manager in the Department for Transport, published a series of embarrassing tweets, which two newspapers reported in November.

She was critical of the coalition’s cuts, attacked Downing Street “spin” and told her 700 followers that the leader of a training course she attended was “mental”.

Her comments were republished by The Daily Mail and The Independent on Sunday, which provoked her to complain to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) that she had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” when she made them.

She also pointed to a disclaimer on her Twitter page that her tweets represented her views and not those of her employer.

Deciding in the newspapers’ favour, the PCC said the fact that tweets are publicly accessible on the web 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,” the Telegraph quoted the regulator as saying.

The decision also took into account civil service rules on political impartiality, which the newspapers said justified highlighting Baskerville’s views.

“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,” PCC director Stephen Abell said.

“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 judgments about what can legitimately be described as private information,” he added. (ANI)

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