July 30, 2012

Owner Of Spoof Twitter Account Could Go To Trial

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

It´s all fun and games until someone gets hacked. The person behind the anonymously spoofed Twitter account of a Daily Mail and General Trust executive has just been accused in the U.S. of defamation, impersonation and email hacking.

According to Northcliffe Media, the Daily Mail´s newspaper division, whomever is responsible for Twitter handle @UnSteveDorkland–a spoofed account for Steve Aukland, Northcliffe´s chief executive–had hacked into company computers and conducted surveillance on the employees.

Now, Northcliffe is seeking a trial in California, where Twitter´s headquarters are located. According to court documents, the false @UnSteveDorkland user was causing the employees to “fear for their safety.”

The person responsible for the false account has denied "all accusations of illegal conduct set out in this document,” according to the BBC. Though the user says they´ve done nothing wrong, Twitter has said they will comply with a court order and issue the user´s real name on Wednesday, August 1.

The alleged hacker will not take these accusations lightly, however, and will be represented by a pro-bono lawyer and will also be advised by Internet rights groups.

Known for now only as “John Doe,” the @UnSteveDorkland user is being charged with posting obsessive and offensive tweets, as well as posting tweets containing private information.

"At least some of the information made public on Twitter by the Defendant was not known publicly, and on information and belief, the only way that such information could be obtained was by hacking into an email account at Plaintiff's [Northcliffe's] business," writes Northcliffe in their court filing.

Northcliffe is also alleging that, “John Doe” published information which they obtained through employee surveillance, including personal and sensitive information about the employee´s private lives.

In a statement, the real Mr. Auckland said, "I can confirm we have taken action to ask Twitter for help in identifying the individual in order to protect our staff from harassment.”

"We made no request for, nor had any input in, a decision to stop tweeting. Our first priority is a duty of care to all of our employees."

Northcliffe hasn´t announced what kind of offensive material was being published, nor have they listed any specific tweets which they found troubling, though the BBC quotes one source as saying the tweets may have been “homophobic” in nature.

“John Doe,” on the other hand, holds his or her position that they´ve done nothing wrong and said nothing offensive, even telling others to make their own decisions about the content published on the @UnSteveDorkland Twitter profile.

"People can make their own judgement," said “John Doe.”

"I've not taken anything down. It's all in the public domain, I've not touched them at all."

The most recent posts by @UnSteveDorkland are all vanity tweets with plenty of links to stories about this case and Northcliffe´s attempts to reveal “John Doe´s” true identity. The @UnSteveDorkland account even has several pleas to some popular Twitter users–such as Piers Morgan and Eddie Izzard– to ReTweet his case.

While “John Doe” claims every tweet is still publicly available, it´s hard to know if he´s telling the truth or not. Without accessing some old cache, it would be hard to tell if the tweets of sensitive and private information of Northcliffe employees had been deleted, if they had ever been tweeted before in the first place.