May 1, 2012 at 3:58 PM ET
Twelve people have been arrested for allegedly tweeting the name of a woman who was raped by British soccer star Ched Evans.
The tweets on micro-blogging site Twitter were posted after Evans, 23, was jailed last month following his conviction for the rape of a 19-year-old woman in May 2011. He was sentenced to five years, although his attorney say he plans to appeal the conviction.
In Britain, rape and sexual assault victims "are legally entitled to anonymity for life," notes British newspaper The Guardian, and identifying such a victim "in a publication or program" is considered a criminal offense punishable by a fine of around $8,000.
In the United States, news organizations voluntarily do not use the names of victims of sexual assault, but there is no law prohibiting it.
The tweeting arrests are distressing, says the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization.
"Obviously, it's deplorable and digusting that people were tweeting the name of the rape victim, but that doesn't mean people should be going to jail for, what, at least in the U.S. would be considered free speech," said Trevor Timm of the EFF, in an interview with msnbc.com.
"One of the problems with arresting people for saying things like this is it can end up backfiring," he said."Now this is an international story. Instead of ignoring the people who were mentioning the victim's name, now other news organizations are broadcasting where people can go and find this information, and it ends up turning into a situation where more people are going to know her name than if it was just ignored."
Particularly in the world of the Internet, this is known as the "Streisand effect," where an attempt to hide or remove information "ends up completely backfiring and publicizing the information more," Timm said.
"I think they would have been better off not doing anything than arresting people for what should be protected speech."
Some of those arrested have been released on bail. But more people could wind up in custody.
"We continue to be proactive in this investigation and anticipate that further arrests will be made in the near future," police detective sergeant Bob Halford told The Guardian.