Twitter messages not private, rules PCCPress watchdog clears Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday after they published civil servant's tweets
Share Josh Halliday guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 8 February 2011 12.24 GMT Article history
Twitter: information posted on the microblogging site should be considered public, ruled the Press Complaints Commission. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
The Press Complaints Commission ruled on Tuesday that information posted on Twitter should be considered public and publishable by newspapers after it cleared the Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday of breaching privacy guidelines.
Both newspapers had reported on tweets posted by Sarah Baskerville, a Department for Transport employee, in November last year. Baskerville, who had around 700 Twitter followers at the time, described a course leader as "mental" and posted links to tweets attacking government "spin" and Whitehall waste.
Baskerville complained to the press regulator, arguing that she could have a "reasonable expectation" of privacy and that the reporting was misleading. The Daily Mail and Independent on Sunday argued that the messages were public and could be read by anyone.
The PCC decided in favour of the newspapers, in what is the regulator's first ruling on the re-publication of information posted on Twitter.
Stephen Abell, the director of the PCC, 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.
"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."
The newspapers argued that it was reasonable to highlight Baskerville's messages given civil society guidelines on impartiality.
The PCC ruled that the publicly accessible nature of the information was a "key consideration" in its ruling and that the articles did not constitute "an unjustifiable intrusion" into the complainant's privacy.
• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000.
• If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".