Some Concerns About Feds' Ability To Get Twitter Info

from the any-right-to-protect? dept

We already wrote about the judge allowing the feds to get info from certain Twitter users. I didn't find it all that surprising, but in a blog post with thoughts from lawyers Venkat Balasubramani and Eric Goldman, some big questions are raised. Venkat points out that the judge seemed to rely on the terms of Twitter's privacy policy as "evidence" of what users are willing to give up as information. However, that seems pretty questionable, since there's little evidence that the vast majority of people actually read privacy policies, leading to serious questions about how binding they are, or how instructive they are about what people have "willingly" given up. Goldman builds off of this, by noting that people should realize that privacy policies really aren't just between users and sites, but that governments will "trawl through a site's privacy policy to cite terms against the site's users as part of the government's rapacious desire to know everything about its citizens."

Separately, Goldman raises a number of serious questions about the judge's ruling and what it means. He points out that, similar to file sharing cases where there's "file sharing law" and "real law," there may be "Wikileaks law" and "real law," where judges bend over backwards to make rulings against Wikileaks:
The government's request for Wikileaks-related information from Twitter very well may be lawless, but this judge--like so many others confronted with Wikileaks-related issues--is willing to roll with it using highly formalist reasoning. In this respect, Wikileaks may be the new Napster--whenever its name is invoked, the rule of law gets suspended in an overall effort to kick the unwanted enterprise out of the ecosystem; and everyone who touches Wikileaks gets tarred with the taint-by-association brush.

The court's ruling on 2704 standing to challenge a 2703(c) request is a fine example of the problem. The court says that, based on the statutory wording, the affected subscribers lack standing to challenge the records request. OK, but when do the affected subscribers have standing to challenge a 2703(c) request? According to this ruling, the answer may be never. That can't be right. Surely we as citizens have some way to fight back against overreaching government requests for non-public information about us...don't we?

We encounter the same problem with the court's discussion regarding IP addresses. The court makes a troubling categorical statement: "petitioners have no Fourth Amendment privacy interest in their IP addresses." As with the 2703(c) records request, is there any circumstance where a subscriber could prevent his/her IP address from being disclosed to the government? According to this court, the answer may be no.
Definitely questions worth pondering.

Filed Under: government, privacy
Companies: twitter

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  1. identicon
    BBT, 15 Mar 2011 @ 10:09am

    Re: IP Disclosure

    This is the government taking private data from Twitter, not public data. If I post about my latest pimple on Twitter, the post is public and I have no basis to complain about the government accessing it. My personal account details, however, are private (between me and Twitter), and the government has no more right to demand access to them than they do access to any other data I privately share with select individuals.

    In fact, they actually have LESS right to data I have shared with a company like Twitter, as there tend to be laws in place restricting how companies can share the data of their customers, while there generally aren't any laws restricting how individual citizens can share information on other citizens. I.e. it's illegal for the video store to share what movies I rent, but if I tell you "Hey, I rented Avatar last night" it isn't illegal for you to share that information with anyone else.

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