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Supreme Court Twitter Policy Changed Under Pressure From ICO

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Thanks to Information Commissioner’s Office, you can now send Freedom of Information requests to the court in 140 characters or less

The UK Supreme Court was forced to change its Twitter policy just a day after sending the first tweet online. Several sources pointed out that the policy was at odds with official guidelines from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), dealing with Freedom of Information (FOI) requests through social media.

The Supreme Court has allowed the use of Twitter from its courtrooms since February 2011, but yesterday marked the first time the court itself used the Internet service. It was the first Supreme Court in the world to do so.

Supreme Judgement

According to Publicservice.co.uk, a policy document on the Supreme Court’s website said: “Sending messages to our Twitter feed will not be considered as contacting the Supreme Court for any official purpose. If you need to contact the Court for official correspondence, visit our Contact Us page.” Official communications, the court argues, require more than 140 characters.

However, “official purposes” can include information requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – and last year the ICO issued guidelines informing public bodies that they should be prepared to accept requests under the Freedom of Information Act through Twitter and other social networks.

The Supreme Court website now states: “We would prefer to receive Freedom of Information requests via email or letter, in order to assist us in giving them a full response, but we note the Information Commissioner’s Office guidance on the validity of Twitter as a channel for receiving such requests and will handle them in accordance with that guidance.”

We will remind you that a valid FOI request needs to include a person’s real name, an address for correspondence and the description of the information requested. That might be somewhat tough to accomplish in 140 characters.

The Supreme Court will use Twitter updates as a simple way to cover the cases, judgments, and corporate announcements. The account, which was opened yesterday, already amassed more than 4000 followers. It is managed by the court’s communications team.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court Twitter policy states that “you can expect 2-3 tweets a week”, and yet the team managed to produce a deluge of 8 tweets in the first day.