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Twitter hands over data in French anti-Semitism case

world Updated: Jul 12, 2013 22:33 IST

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Twitter handed over data to French authorities on Friday to help identify the authors of anti-Semitic and racist tweets after a months-long legal battle launched by Jewish and anti-racism groups.

A French court in January ordered the US-based company to provide the data following legal action by France's Union of Jewish Students (UEJF) and four anti-racism groups.

Twitter said in a statement that it had given information to judicial authorities "enabling the identification of some authors" of anti-Semitic and racist tweets.

It said the move "puts an end to the dispute" with the groups and that the two sides had "agreed to continue to work actively together in order to fight racism and anti-Semitism".

Twitter said it would also cooperate on "measures to improve the accessability of the procedure for notifications of illicit tweets".

The UEJF launched a civil suit against Twitter and its CEO Dick Costolo in March claiming 38.5 million euros ($50 million) in damages over the global social networking site's failure to respond to the French court order.

The union said it would hand over any damages won in court to the Shoah Memorial fund.

The groups had been pressing Twitter to exercise tighter control following a deluge of anti-Semitic messages last year posted under the hashtag #unbonjuif (#agoodjew).

Twitter later removed some of the offending tweets.

President Francois Hollande had also called on Twitter to comply with the court order.

A Paris appeals court in June ruled that Twitter was in violation of the order because it had not provided the data nor given a valid reason for failing to do so.

UEJF president Jonathan Hayoun said Twitter's delivery of the information was "a great victory in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism" and "a big step in the fight against the feeling of impunity on the Internet".

"This agreement is a reminder that you cannot do anything you want on the Internet. Twitter will no longer be a conduit for racists and anti-Semites where their anonymity will be protected," he said.

Paris prosecutors said Twitter's move would allow them to "identify" and "pursue" the authors of anti-Semitic messages.

"Twitter's change in position... will allow us to fight more efficiently against racism and other forms of discrimination" on the Internet, a spokesman for Paris prosecutors said.

France's minister for the digital economy, Fleur Pellerin, hailed Twitter's decision to comply with the court ruling.

"This is important because this is the end for people who were guilty of carrying out (hate-speech) crimes but were hiding behind anonymity or pseudonymity," she told AFP.

UEJF lawyer Stephane Lilti said the agreement should lead to Twitter making it easier for users to signal racist or anti-Semitic tweets for removal.

The anti-racism groups had accused Twitter of making it too complicated to quickly bring potentially illegal tweets to the attention of the company or of authorities.

The dispute was seen as a test case pitting the right to free expression on the Internet against laws banning hate speech.

In October, Twitter suspended the account of a neo-Nazi group in Germany following a request from the government in Berlin.

That was the first time that the US firm had applied a policy known as "country-withheld content", which allows it to block an account at the request of state authorities.