Feds Say It Doesn't Matter If No One Reads A Privacy Policy; It Still Means Gov't Can Have Your Info

from the reading-is-not-fundamental dept

In the ongoing attempt by the US government to access Twitter info from some Wikileaks supporters, we noted that an odd part of the government’s reasoning for why it should be allowed access to this info is that Twitter’s privacy policy is evidence that users are willing to give up private info such as the info requested. That would seem to set a dangerous precedent, especially since almost no one reads privacy policies. The fact that such a privacy policy actually may apply beyond just the agreement between a service provider and a user, but to the government reaching in to access your info seems quite troubling.

In defending these claims, the government is going so far as to say it doesn’t matter if no one reads privacy policies, it still means that people have willingly allowed the government to access their info in this case.

In their brief the U.S. attorneys attack an argument from Appelbaum, Jonsdottir and Gonggrjip’s team that they shouldn’t be held to Twitter’s privacy policy–which allows authorities to lift data like users’ IP addresses–because it’s unreasonable to assume that users have read it or any other of the dense policies they face on commonly used sites.

“The existence of the Privacy Policy, even if unread by the Subscribers, undermines the legitimacy of any expectation of privacy the Subscribers may have had in the IP addresses they conveyed to Twitter,” reads the brief. “Although individual users might be ignorant of the terms of Twitter’s Privacy Policy, society is not prepared to recognize as reasonable an expectation of privacy that is directly contradicted by policy statements available to all who wish to read them.”

But, of course, that seems to raise some other serious questions. The “privacy policy” is basically an agreement between the user and Twitter, not the user and the US government. Should the US government really be able to use the terms of such an agreement when it’s likely that most people would not have considered the government a party to the agreement in the first place? And, does the government really want to establish a precedent that a policy applies even if no one has read it?

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Companies: twitter, wikileaks

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Comments on “Feds Say It Doesn't Matter If No One Reads A Privacy Policy; It Still Means Gov't Can Have Your Info”

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d1ckiem0e (profile) says:

That's why I want the govt to shut down

Jeez, what would we do without these nitwits making decisions like this on a daily basis? How about let’s just shut down all of congress and have them meet once a month to go over “pressing matters”? Do we really need the thousands of people flocking around DC to grab a chunk of someone else’s money, and a bunch of “law makers” writing laws to make it legal for them to do so?

Brandeis, Louis D. says:

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal well meaning but without understanding.”

AW says:

By this logic...

So let me get this straight if I visit a legal whorehouse outside of Vegas because I made an agreement with a private business the government thinks that means I’m giving them the right to screw me?
Since when does any agreement with a private person, in this case a corporate person, give the government the same rights. Maybe I missed that part of constitutional law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: By this logic...

AW, I can’t make any sense out of that first line.

My own 2c
I truly don’t understand why clear language cannot be used for most agreements. At least public-facing agreements, I understand that the lawyers need to preserve their existence. If stated clearly enough, there -cannot be- loopholes or cause for confusion.
Privacy Policy:
Some non-personally identifiable information will be collected during your use of our service. This information will be used internally to help produce relevant ads and to make improvements to our service. We will not make this information available to anyone outside our corporation, ever.
3 sentences, middle school reading level (maybe), no loopholes. Whats the problem? Why is this so difficult?

Jan Bilek says:


Is it just me or did they twist “privacy” definition beyond recognition? My private info is not info that no one knows. It’s info that I control and I get to decide to whom it should be known.

No matter what TOS say and whether people read it or not, the assumption that when I am willing to give some info to someone it is not private anymore is so false… OMG, do you also get this itchy feeling in your stomach when you face this kind of argument? It’s not just wrong, it feels like when you are in presence of really sick twisted mind. It feels like saying that it’s OK to rape your wife because she agrees to sleep with you so I can sleep with her too.

I really hope I just misunderstood their reasoning.

G Thompson (profile) says:

This convoluted US Government idea might work for US Citizens, but I can absolutely guarentee you that it does not work for EU, AUS, UK, [not sure about CANADA], citizens, since the so called ‘privacy policy’ only applies if the law allows it in the jurisdiction of where the CUSTOMER resides, not where the organisation is based.

Also it shows another reason why the rest of the planet is understanding that the Bill of rights that the US is so proud of (and IT IS something to be proud of) is becoming more and more irrelevant day by day, and that places like Australia, New Zealand, European Union, and even Canada have more freedom and protection for the guaranteed rights of expression, privacy, quiet enjoyment, not to mention due process, than US citizens now have.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: @G.Thompson

Uh, Scott? Tone it down a bit. G.Thompson was making the point that EU (and certain other countries’) laws on privacy are different, meaning that the US government’s argument will only fly against US citizens because US law will apply to them, and not to citizens of other countries. He’s not offending your tender nationalist pride. (He also happens to be wrong on the law about this — the law of an account holder’s home country is not controlling in this situation — but it’s worth pointing out that he wasn’t trying to offend you.)

bdhoro (profile) says:

Isn't that opposite to what the law says?

I thought I learned in a business law class that a contract isn’t made unless there is some reasonable transaction that is expected to be understood between the two parties. What I was taught is that this makes hidden statements and phrases using legal jargon that the public wouldn’t understand ineffective at becoming binding.

Examples I remember from class specifically discussed whether a party was likely to read a statement and if that made it binding. I.E. lets say you park your car in a parking garage – the garage owner is normally liable for damages that happen in the garage to your car. Many garages print on the back of their ticket, or somewhere else obscure in their parking lot that “We are not liable for any damages to your vehicle.” Even having that statement printed on a receipt DOES NOT MAKE IT BINDING.

Thats why I believe if someone had a decent lawyer and the desire to go against any of these big companies that expect their hidden statements and privacy policy’s, EULA’s and the like to be legally binding, they would definitely set a nice precedent for what general consumers are actually getting themselves into (or not).

Anonymous Coward says:

I thought regular user ip addresses were dynamic and changed every 6 hours or so. So why does it matter what their ip address is because it won’t be the same one tomorrow? Or is that simply bullshit fed to us and all ip addresses are static? If they are all static then we can all host servers and data banks that are accessible from the cloud.

McCrea says:

Re: Not bullshit, but ignorance

An IP address lead to the assigner of the IP address, e.g., your ISP. The ISP will have logs of which user accounts were associated with the IP address at a given time. To narrow down the specifics, every packet (from the vast majority of network protocols) has the unique MAC address from the exact physical devise, e.g., the actually network interface of your in-house router or computer.

Nobody credible is (or has been) running around saying that dynamic IP assignments lead to any kind of anonymity. It’s neither logically nor technically correct, and in practice is very elementary knowledge.

Anonymous Coward says:

I really hate to say it, but I kind of agree with the gov’t here. The fact that you don’t read the privacy policy is irrelevant. The fact that it is there and you could read it if you wanted to helps make it part of the user agreement with Twitter. On the other hand, I agree with Mike that “The ‘privacy policy’ is basically an agreement between the user and Twitter, not the user and the US government” so the gov’t still shouldn’t get what they want here.

Anonymous Coward says:

You want a big government then you get a lot of laws, regulations, and people with idle time sifting through your information. The only solution is to make the government small enough that it only has the motivation to focus on the most major issues impacting our country. Do you vote for the party that will make the government bigger or smaller? It is a simple question and yes one directly relates to the other.

As for the EU being all privacy minded- I keep reading stories about how everything from your television to your trash is being monitored and regulated. I can pretty much watch whatever I want here and after watching the episode on recycling by Penn and Teller I do not recycle either.

cj (profile) says:


Help me out here i am in the process of writing a privacy policy. Everyone puts the following in their privacy policy. …

We do not sell, trade, or otherwise transfer to outside parties your personally identifiable information. This does not include trusted third parties who assist us in operating our website, conducting our business, or servicing you, so long as those parties agree to keep this information confidential. We may also release your information when we believe release is appropriate to comply with the law, enforce our site policies, or protect ours or others rights, property, or safety.

The part about law enforcement does bother me. But i have no clue on how to write this in order to protect my members. Does anyone have a clue?

Darryl says:

privacy on twitter !!!

The “privacy policy” is basically an agreement between the user and Twitter

No it is not!

A “privacy policy” is what it SAYS it is, a policy, ie, THIS IS WHAT WE DO AND WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT FROM US.

It might say, “We 100% protect all your information”

or it might say “We make NO claims to your privacy and we will GIVE that information away to ANYONE who seeks it.”

And if you are too stupid to read the policy, then you would expect it to be option No.2.

That is, dont expect ANY privacy, and this IS TWITTER we are talking about, its a public forum.

does the government really want to establish a precedent that a policy applies even if no one has read it?

Like everyone reads ALL LAWS, all Government policies before they comply with them, or have a reasonable expectation of what is “right”.

Mike when was the last time you signed a contract that you did not read?

This seems in opposition to Mikes anti-copyright and “information wants to be free” mantra!

Or, does that only apply when it suits you Mike ?

What about your little witch hunt you ran a few weeks back where you went to great effort to find and name a senitor that voted on something you did not agree with.

You worked it all out, and eliminated ‘suspects’ (and named them as well), until you got your ‘witch’.

Mike, what is YOUR policy of privacy ?

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