Dianne Feinstein Wants Twitter To Just Hand Her A Bunch Of Private Communications

from the wtf dept

I’m not sure who Dianne Feinstein thinks she is, but she’s going after Twitter users’ private communications. As part of the ongoing hearings into Russian interference in the election process (specifically marketing efforts by Russian troll armies), Feinstein has asked Twitter [PDF] to hand over a bunch of information.

Most of the demands target Twitter itself: documents related to ad campaigns, investigative work by Twitter to uncover bot accounts, communications between Twitter and Russian-connected entities, etc. Then there’s this demand, which doesn’t ask Twitter to turn over communications from Twitter, but rather users’ private messages.

All content of each Direct Message greater than 180 days old between each Requested Account contained in Attachment A and any of the following accounts:

A. @wikileaks (https://twitter.com/wikileaks, 16589206);

B. @WLTaskForce (https://twitter.com/WLTaskforce, 783041834599780352);

C. @GUCCIFER_2 (https://twitter.com/GUCCIFER_2, 744912907515854848);

D. @JulianAssange_ (https://twitter.com/JulianAssange, 181199293);

E. @JulianAssange (https://twitter.com/JulianAssange, 388983706): or

F. @granmarga (https://twitter.com/granmarga, 262873196).

15. For each Direct Message identified in response to the preceding requests, documents sufficient to identify the sender. receiver, date, and time each message was sent.

Feinstein’s acting like she can use the ECPA’s “older than 180 days” trick — most commonly applied to emails — to obtain private communications between Twitter users. That’s not really how this works. Law enforcement can demand these with a subpoena, but a non-law enforcement entity can’t. Feinstein isn’t a law enforcement officer. She’s a Senator. There’s no reason for Twitter to comply with this part of the order.

In fact, it may be illegal for Twitter to turn these communications over. The Stored Communications Act forbids service providers from handing out this information to anyone without a warrant. If Feinstein really wants these communications, she’d better turn this into a law enforcement investigation and have someone obtain the proper judicial permission slip.

Feinstein knows this part of the request is a bit off. That’s why she attempts to minimize the multitude of problems in her request with this:

While I recognize that this type of information is not routinely shared with Congress, we have sought to limit the requests to communications only with those entities identified as responsible for distribution of material that was unlawfully obtained through Russian cyberattacks on US computer systems.

This would seem to indicate an actual investigation involving actual law enforcement agencies is a possibility. If so, demands for private communications with these accounts can wait for an actual search warrant. If not, Twitter is well within its rights to refuse her request. This request will sweep up all sorts of communications from accounts not currently under investigation, either by the Senate subcommittee or any US law enforcement agency.

It’s more than just the six accounts listed — even though each of those may have received hundreds of Direct Messages. There’s another list — Exhibit A — that hasn’t been made public. Any perceived violations of privacy laws witnessed here have the chance to grow exponentially should Feinstein somehow coax Twitter into turning over these messages. This is a stupid and dangerous request from a public servant who should know better.

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Comments on “Dianne Feinstein Wants Twitter To Just Hand Her A Bunch Of Private Communications”

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34 Comments
ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: VOTE HER OUT!

It’s disgraceful that Silicon Valley has her a representative in the senate, when she so constantly tries to fuck them over in the name of national security.

It would be like Texas electing an environmental activist to the senate who purposely tried to screw over their state’s oil industry in the name of solar and wind energy.

Anonymous Coward says:

"I'm not sure who Dianne Feinstein thinks she is," -- REALLY?

I bet you know more about her than I do, and I’m CERTAIN that she’s a sitting United States Senator. You’d better Google it before LIE any more.

>>> “going after Twitter users’ private communications”??? — Those are property of Twitter. Users are irrelevant here. (Or so you’d argue if were useful. I’m sure you hold that Twitter has Right to control mere users, though. — YUP, you soon state: “If not, Twitter is well within its rights to refuse her request.” — IN FACT, Twitter is a corporaion and has NO rights. You are flatly a corporatist if believe any legal fiction has any rights.)

>>> “In fact, it may be illegal for Twitter to turn these communications over.” — NO, it’s NOT. Congress has the Public’s Authority to get ANY information from a mere corporation. — Congress doesn’t use that power often or ruthlessly enough. In the Old Days, Congress routinely sent Federal Marshalls out to bring persons / documents, and had its own JAIL for the recalcitrant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "I'm not sure who Dianne Feinstein thinks she is," -- REALLY?

>> “violations of privacy laws”… Hmm. None such come to top of my mind in the current topic besides cultural milieu. Would you please list those? — It’d be useful to put out because surely Google / Facebook / Twitter are violating any such somehow! — I suspect that’s just a handy phrase you wrote, though.

Techdirt is really only alarmed when “invasion of privacy” might lead to disclosing information that Americans need to know.

stderric (profile) says:

Re: Re: "I'm not sure who Dianne Feinstein thinks she is," -- REALLY?

Techdirt is really only alarmed when "invasion of privacy" might lead to disclosing information that Americans need to know.

Is this saying that if, e.g., ‘Google does it’ then it’s always wrong, but if ‘Americans need to know’ then it doesn’t matter how information is obtained, even if it invades one’s privacy and violates the law?

(BTW, the correct answer to ‘Who does Diane Feinstein think she is?’ is obviously ‘Theresa May’.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "I'm not sure who Dianne Feinstein thinks she is," -- REALLY?

How can you be so wrong on so many things?

Twitter users’ private communications belong to the users, not Twitter, Twitter has to get permission to do anything with them unless compelled by judicial or law enforcement agencies.

Congress may have at one point had (or abused) power such as you describe, but I don’t remember it any of my history books and they certainly do not have that power today. Citation needed.

As for privacy laws? You could start with the ECPA for one, I’m sure there are others.

ANON says:

Re: "I'm not sure who Dianne Feinstein thinks she is," -- REALLY?

Whaaaaat…?

A corporation, like a person, cannot be subject to search or confiscation by the state.

What bothers me more is – where was this request coming from? Was this DF going Lone Wolf, or was this from a committee with powers to investigate? AFAIK a plain senator can ask questions, but only Senate committees can issue subpoenas for material on behalf of the senate. What rock did Diane crawl out from under if she thinks a company (or a real boy) would actually hand over private, sensitive material just because she asked?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Her Royal Majesty Feinstein

Letter to Twitter was on official Senate Judiciary Committee letterhead … signed by Feinstein as US Senator.

As such, it was effectively an official Federal Government “demand” for private data from a private party.

Feinstein illegally used the “color of law” and her official position for an end-run around formal judicial due process and the 4th Amendment. Feinstein employed some polite language, but nowhere specified this was just a personal request, nor that compliance was purely voluntary, nor that non-compliance would have no consequence.

“Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)sent total of five letters to various entities “requesting” information related to the Russia investigation. Additional “requests” are expected to be sent in the coming weeks.

Lock Her Up

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "I'm not sure who Dianne Feinstein thinks she is," -- REALLY?

I bet you know more about her than I do, and I’m CERTAIN that she’s a sitting United States Senator.

US Senators don’t have the authority that she is trying to exert. So it would see that she sees herself as something else.

You’d better Google it before LIE any more.

Typo alert. You left out the "I" before "LIE".

Anonymous Coward says:

Feinstein’s acting like she can use the ECPA’s "older than 180 days" trick — most commonly applied to emails — to obtain private communications between Twitter users.

US v Warshak (6th Cir. 2010)

Warshak argues that the government’s warrantless, ex parte seizure of approximately 27,000 of his private emails constituted a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures [Note 12]. . . . We find that the government did violate Warshak’s Fourth Amendment rights by compelling his Internet Service Provider ("ISP") to turn over the contents of his emails.


[Note 12] This is not the first time Warshak has raised this argument. . . .

And further:

Moreover, to the extent that the SCA purports to permit the government to obtain such emails warrantlessly, the SCA is unconstitutional.

Anonymous Coward says:

ECPA / SCA

…the ECPA’s "older than 180 days" trick… The Stored Communications Act…

Wikipedia: Stored Communications Act

The Stored Communications Act (SCA…)… was enacted as Title II of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA).

Pub. L. 99-508

This Act may be cited as the "Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ECPA / SCA

ped·ant·ry
[ˈped(ə)ntrē]
NOUN
excessive concern with minor details and rules:
“to object to this is not mere pedantry”
synonyms: dogmatism · purism · literalism · formalism · overscrupulousness · scrupulousness · perfectionism · fastidiousness · punctiliousness · meticulousness · captiousness · quibbling

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ECPA / SCA

excessive concern with minor details and rules

Look, perhaps you already understand that 18 USC § 2703(a)‘s “one hundred and eighty days” distinction was enacted under Title II of the ECPA, which is known as the SCA.

I thought Cushing’s article would most probably lead unsophisticated readers to erroneously believe that the SCA was a completely separate enactment from the ECPA.

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