Manafort's Daughter's Lawyer Wants Twitter To Vanish Tweets Linking To Text Message Database
from the man-wields-hammer,-demands-Twitter-produce-nails dept
The leak of text messages sent and received by Paul Manafort’s daughter might be old news, but new wrinkles keep appearing. Originally obtained by hackers, the texts have been perused by journalists, resulting in articles discussing Manafort’s apparent complicity in violence in Ukraine. The full set of texts has been around since at least early 2017, but no searchable database of the texts themselves existed publicly.
Apparently, Wikileaks had the full dataset in searchable form but refused to release it. FOIA/transparency activist Emma Best decided to call out Wikileaks on its perceived duplicity (the dumping of the Podesta/DNC emails but not the release of the Manafort text messages) and made the database publicly available. As she wrote then, the likelihood of the text message dump leading to further issues for Manafort’s daughter was minimal, given that it had been more than a year since it became public knowledge their phones had been hacked.
Now, more than two months after Emma Best made the texts available in searchable form, a lawyer representing Manafort’s daughter is demanding the removal of Best’s tweets linking to her post about the text message database. This summary of events comes from Joseph Cox at Motherboard:
Shortly after that publication and Best’s tweet, Shand’s lawyer, Matthew Crowl from law firm RSHC, flagged the tweet to Twitter through its normal reporting mechanisms, judging by the letter Crowl sent to the company days later. Twitter said the tweet did not violate its policy on distributing private information, according to the letter.
“That response is unacceptable,” Crowl wrote. “After these private, stolen messages were linked in the offending Tweet, several members of my client’s family have received harassing and threatening messages.” Crowl highlights Twitter has various options to “protect Ms. Shand’s privacy,” including suspending or terminating an offending account, and points to how Twitter’s rules say users “may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission.” The tweet itself did not contain any of the hacked text messages, but contained a link that went to a page which led to the text cache.
Emma Best posted screenshots of the threat letter to Twitter, noting she is not going to voluntarily delete the tweets targeted by Matthew Crowl. Twitter apparently isn’t going to delete them either, leaving Crowl with little more than a blustery threat on law firm letterhead. Crowl intends to pursue “all legal remedies” to get the tweets removed, which will probably include a lawsuit he has little chance of winning.
The publication of the texts is clearly in the public’s interest, even if a vast majority of them are not newsworthy. Prior to this publication, people were dependent on journalists to sift through the mass of texts to surface those deemed newsworthy. Independent investigations of the messages’ content was all but impossible before Best published a searchable database.
While there may be some privacy implications in the released texts, those relating directly to Paul Manafort and his actions — especially those discussing his relationship with Russian entities — carry minimal privacy concerns, at least when weighed against the public’s interest in the content of those messages. Best’s upload simply made it easier to find newsworthy text messages, even if the unavoidable side effect was the easy perusal of texts containing nothing of public interest.
Any legal action undertaken by Crowl will have to go head-to-head with the First Amendment. Even if Crowl finds a judge willing to buy his arguments, the dissemination of the database ensures the burial of Best’s article/tweets will do nothing to prevent the public from continuing to dig through the 285,000 messages obtained by hackers. While it’s understandable his client is unhappy this has happened, a lawsuit victory would be about as effective as hanging Emma Best in effigy. It might make a few people feel better, but it won’t turn back the clock. The only thing it’s guaranteed to do is create a chilling effect that will deter future publications of newsworthy data obtained from third parties.