UK upholds right of press to report on tweets

The UK’s Press Complaints Commission has upheld the right of the press to report on Twitter updates, in response to a London-based UK government employee’s complaint that a newspaper’s publication of her tweets violated her privacy rights

Ad Age reports that Sarah Baskerville wrote tweets about hangovers, about how the teacher of a course was “mental” and that after lunch she “would much rather be going home.”

“She also made some of her political views known,” Ad Age reports, “asking, ‘How much more can we take from this Government?’ regarding plans for McDonald’s Corp. and PepsiCo to help write health policy. And she complained about cutbacks. Both her Twitter account and her blog include clear disclaimers that the views expressed were personal opinions and were not representative of her employer.

“Nothing there to distinguish her from many British workers, but because she is a government employee whose wages are paid by the British taxpayer, the U.K.’s Daily Mail tabloid decided in November 2010 that it was justified in re-printing her tweets under the headline ‘Oh please stop this twit from tweeting, someone.'”

Baskerville launched a complaint with the UK’s independent Press Complaints Commission, claiming that her privacy had been violated.

The Commission didn’t uphold her complaints, saying “The civil service code requires that public servants should not, by their personal statements, call into doubt the impartiality of the civil service. It was quite legitimate for the newspaper to highlight this particular case.”

The Commission also ruled that since any of her updates could potentially be reposted by any of her 700 followers, the act of tweeting wasn’t private.

Ad Age reports that “Since the press coverage, Ms. Baskerville — who tweets as @Baskers and describes herself as a “Scottish & Sober-ish” civil servant next to a photo of herself holding a glass of beer — has added another 1,000 followers to her Twitter account, but has now deleted all her tweets. She has not posted on her blog since early December.”

(Update: Baskerville notes that she’s actually holding a glass of whiskey)

Although in the past day or so, Baskerville has put up two new tweets. Her most recent blog post came with a bit of gee-whiz revelation:

“This is the first blog post since the whole affair and I think you all know what I mean by that.

“For obvious reasons I can’t elaborate any further for now (I’m sure you can understand why) as that’s a blog post that will not only happen when the time is right, but when I have the emotional and mental capacity to come to terms with it. Suffice to say I hope the time will come soon when I can draw the line, and move on. Because we all have to move on and start engaging again. The world moves on, the world is changing. We no longer live in an “offline” world, our lives are changing in so many ways to connect with the digital world, that connection is no longer enough. We also need to engage if we are to be truly “whole” citizens of the 21st century.”