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.

Filed Under: authoritarian, dianne feinstein, ecpa, sca, stored communications act
Companies: twitter

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2017 @ 1:41pm

    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.

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