Google and Twitter have rejected calls from U.K. politicians to put in place additional measures to stop people breaking Ryan Giggs-style privacy injunctions online, saying it would be impossible to censor material on the web effectively.
“Requiring search engines to screen the content of their web pages would be like asking phone companies to listen in on every call made across their networks for potentially suspicious activity,” Google said on Tuesday. “Google already remove specific pages deemed unlawful by the courts. We have a number of simple tools anyone can use to report such content, which we then remove from our index.”
Twitter similarly said it would continue to operate its current system, under which it evaluates legal requests to remove material on a case-by-case basis. Facebook said it was still reviewing a report from U.K. politicians that had called for a change in Internet companies’ behaviour.
A committee of MPs on Tuesday called for Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to take practical steps to stop people from using the Internet to find out information that had been protected by court orders. The joint committee on privacy and injunctions said that if the companies failed to do this, laws should be developed to force them to do so.
“Google and other search engines should take steps to ensure that their web sites are not used as vehicles to breach the law and should actively develop and use such technology,” the report said. “We recommend that if legislation is necessary to require them to do so it should be introduced.”
The issue of privacy injunctions hit the spotlight last summer, when it emerged that Mr. Giggs, the Manchester United footballer, had taken out a super-injunction to prevent the newspapers from reporting allegations he had an extramarital affair with Imogen Thomas, a model. However, details of the injunction and the alleged affair were widely reported on social networking sites, such as Twitter, eventually leading John Hemmings, a Liberal Democrat MP, to name Mr. Giggs in Parliament.
Max Mosley, the former head of Formula One, has also sued Google over the Internet company’s refusal to remove links to a sex video, in which he featured, from its search results.
The events sparked an extensive debate over privacy and injunctions, and prompted U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to set up a committee to investigate free speech and privacy.
The committee said on Tuesday that new privacy laws were not necessary, but called for an enhanced press regulator, with powers to fine newspapers. It also singled out Internet companies for criticism.
Google has argued that it would be difficult to put in place a mechanism to identify banned pictures or words, because such as system would not understand context.
However, the committee said Google’s objections to putting a system in place were “totally unconvincing.”