Impersonating on Twitter? It's illegal!

Copying someone’s identity to tweet could land you in trouble. Court can even serve notice on an anonymous person through a networking site or on email, says Shamni Pande.

Copying someone’s identity to tweet on controversial issues could land you in trouble. In what is being referred to as the Blaney’s Blarney Order in the UK, a court has allowed an injunction to be served to an anonymous person through social networking site Twitter, for using the blog name of well-known right-wing columnist Donal Blaney and posting tweets far removed from Blaney’s views. The order asks the impersonator to reveal his or her identity, since it amounts to defamation and breaches Blaney’s copyright.

The India Story: So, can a court serve notice on an anonymous person through a networking site or on e-mail? Does this also make the site a party to the crime? “There are instances where an Indian court has served a legal notice through the electronic format,” says Pavan Duggal, one of the few cyber law experts in India. In 2007, the Delhi High Court had delivered an order to an anonymous blogger via e-mail, since the person was based in Copenhagen. This is now referred to as the “Spam inbox case” in Indian legal circles.

What the Law Says: The issue gains significance in India in the light of the Information Technology Amendment Act 2008, where intermediaries (such as social media platforms) are no longer automatically liable for third-party data on their site if they have exercised due diligence while discharging their obligations. Hence, bloggers/tweeters in India have to be extra careful about posts on such platforms.

New Safeguards?: Given the popularity of Twitter (there are over 2.6 million Twitter users in India), legal experts in India and abroad are working on a “Twitter Law” to deal with issues that users are likely to face. “The law would deal with areas relating to privacy issues, and twitter crimes ,” says Duggal.