Council’s bid to track down mystery blogger

ATTACK ON FREE SPEECH ... says Coun Ahmed Khan, whose account details have been handed over by Twitter.

ATTACK ON FREE SPEECH ... says Coun Ahmed Khan, whose account details have been handed over by Twitter.

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A COURT has demanded the details of a senior South Tyneside politician’s Twitter accounts in a bid to track down a mystery blogger.

Ahmed Khan, the deputy leader of the Independent Alliance is the subject of a subpoena which South Tyneside Council has issued to the online social network site.

Twitter must now hand over all the personal details of his two accounts – his personal one and councillor account.

Using public money, council chiefs have hired a US law firm to unmask the identity of the Mr Monkey political blog, which in recent years has made several unfounded accusations against senior figures, including Labour council leader, Coun Iain Malcolm.

But Coun Khan, deputy leader of the opposition group, today claimed the council was spying on him and accused the authority of breaching his privacy and that of people he represents.

The Beacon and Bents ward councillor said: “This is an invasion of privacy. It appears the council is happy to effectively spy on elected members, and it raises concerns whether I am the only one.

“Are they monitoring my e-mails and my telephone calls too?

“I deal with many sensitive problems. People come to me over issues of child abuse, elder abuse and neighbour disputes, communicating on occasions through Twitter and e-mail.

“This action has serious ramifications and breaches that confidentiality.

“This has been agreed behind closed doors without any discussion with elected members.”

But South Tyneside Council defended the search for the mystery blogger. This legal action was initiated by the council’s previous chief executive and has continued with the full support of the council’s current chief executive,” a spokesman said.

“The council has a duty of care to protect its employees and as this blog contains damaging claims about council officials, legal action is being taken to identify those responsible,” he said.

Coun Khan said he would not issue a motion to quash the application, stating he has “nothing to hide.”

A complaint over the Mr Monkey blog was lodged with the San Mateo Superior Court in America, in June, 2009.

Documents show there are four plaintiffs – Iain Malcolm, David Potts, former leader of the Conservative Party on the authority, Labour councillor Anne Walsh, and Rick O’Farrell, the council’s head of enterprise and regeneration.

The document, drafted by American law firm McDermott Will & Emery, says: “The defendant unlawfully posted false and defamatory statements about the plaintiffs on several weblogs, more commonly called blogs.”