Tech companies including Twitter, Google and Facebook are facing a wave of legal actions in Ireland because of their decision to base their international operations in the country, a leading libel lawyer has said.
Paul Tweed told the Guardian his firm Johnsons had seen a “steady, if not dramatic, increase in claims against Facebook, Google and Twitter” as well as other social networks. He said there were several new claims a week on issues including privacy, libel and harassment.
Tweed said the increase in claims was down to a combination of more people using social media in a vindictive way, coupled with the realisation that those companies basing their operations in Ireland, largely to take advantage of its low rate of corporation tax, could face sanction under Irish law.
He warned three years ago that large tech firms were increasingly open to challenges in Irish courts, but says the number of claims has recently ramped up.
Tweed, who has represented famous clients including Britney Spears, Louis Walsh, Harrison Ford and Michael Jackson, predicts a “flurry of activity” in the coming months and expects “landmark” legal cases to make it to Ireland’s courts.
However, he said the prospect of legal action was likely to spur companies such as Facebook to co-operate on new voluntary takedown procedures.
“If the don’t they will find themselves at the wrong end of civil law in terms of major damage claims,” he said.
“The bottom line is that Twitter, Facebook et al have created these social networking beasts for their commercial gain and therefore the onus must be firmly on them to provide effective controls that give more than lip service to public concerns.
“They cannot have it all their own way. They have come to Ireland, which has to be good news for our economy, but they cannot expect to take all the benefits and escape the legal and other consequences.”
The prospect of legal action targeting the international subsidiaries of US tech companies in Ireland adds another dimension to concerns about how the global nature of the internet undermines domestic law on issues such as privacy.
Last month the UK supreme court upheld an injunction barring UK publications from naming the couple involved in the “celebrity threesome”, despite the names being published by numerous outlets in the US and elsewhere outside England and Wales.
On the day of the ruling, Twitter emailed a users who had posted tweets about the couple, saying it had received legal notices claiming they were illegal and asking the user to confirm if they had “voluntarily” deleted them.
Google was also recently compelled by the EU to make sure links removed under the “right to be forgotten” rules were not accessible from browsers in its member countries, even if they were on versions of the site aimed at users elsewhere.