c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Alex MacGillivray, Twitter’s chief lawyer and the Internet industry’s most prominent champion of free speech rights, announced Friday that he would step down from his post, as the company expands its global footprint and prepares for a widely anticipated public offering sometime in 2014.

The company announced the appointment of a new general counsel, Vijaya Gadde, who had managed the company’s corporate affairs for the past two years. MacGillivray, better known as AMac, said he would continue in an advisory role.

On his personal blog, he wrote: “I’m looking forward to engaging my various internet passions from new and different perspectives, seeing friends and family without distraction, and just goofing off a bit. We should all do more of that.”

MacGillivray, who worked at Google before joining Twitter, has won accolades from civil libertarians for advocating for the rights of users and for often resisting requests for information about its users. It pushed back against a court order in 2011 to reveal names of WikiLeaks supporters, including by informing users that their information was being sought.

He has not always been successful. Most recently, Twitter agreed to identify several users who posted anti-Semitic comments on its service, and whom French authorities sought to prosecute for violating that country’s anti-hate laws.

MacGillivray’s departure comes at a time when Twitter is positioning itself as a multinational company, with offices and data servers around the world and pressure to comply with government requests for user data.

“It’s got enough impact now that governments around the world are going to want it on speed dial and are going to be seeking cooperation on a variety of fronts because Twitter now is such a vector for communications, particularly fast-breaking communications,” said Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law professor.

Twitter will inevitably have to confront how it balances its business interests with its advocacy of free speech, he added. “You can’t lightly alienate important governments. Figuring out how to reconcile that with desire to promote free of speech, that’s a big corporate question.”

Indeed, the company’s public policy department will now report directly to its chief executive, Dick Costolo, rather than to the new general counsel, as it had in the past, a company spokesman said.

Previously as a lawyer for Google, MacGillivray pioneered the issuance of semiannual reports on government requests for user data. Google started the trend several years ago; Twitter followed in 2012 and most recently, so did Microsoft and Facebook.

The general counsel’s office also will be facing a mountain of legal paperwork in connection with the company’s initial public offering.

Gadde, who has a corporate background, is well positioned to head those efforts. She specialized in corporate and securities law at the Silicon Valley firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati for 10 years before leaving to work at Juniper Networks, a computer security company, and, in July 2011, joining Twitter.

“It’s a ton of work to take a company through an IPO, and he may have thought rather than take on that challenge, it’s time for someone else to take it on,” said Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University in California.