Judge Wants To Know Who's Behind Devin Nunes' Cow's And Mom's Twitter Account

from the but-does-he-need-to? dept

A new twist in the first of Devin Nunes' SLAPP suits: the judge has asked Twitter to reveal to him who is behind the two satirical Twitter accounts that Devin Nunes is suing over. According to the Fresno Bee:

A Virginia judge has asked Twitter to provide more information about the authors of two anonymous parody accounts that heckle California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes before deciding whether to dismiss the congressman’s lawsuit against the social media company.

Judge John Marshall is weighing a request from San Francisco-based Twitter to dismiss Nunes’ lawsuit on the grounds that it does not belong in Virginia.

Marshall asked Twitter to provide the names and addresses of the anonymous authors behind the two accounts, the gross amount of revenue for Twitter in 2018 and the first half of 2019 and the number of Twitter accounts in Virginia.

The issue, right now, is whether or not the cases should be thrown out for improper venue / jurisdiction shopping. Political consultant Liz Mair (who was also sued) and Twitter have both told the court that the case belongs in California -- and suggested (reasonably) that Nunes only filed in Virginia to avoid California's anti-SLAPP law (which would make him liable for their legal expenses).

So you can kind of understand why the judge wants to know where the still anonymous account holders live, as that could play into the venue question. However, it still seems like Judge Marshall's request is overly broad. He could have just asked for information, should Twitter even have it, of where the account holders reside (I'm not even sure if Twitter has such info). But there's no reason at all for the judge to need to know the names of the account holders, even if he promises not to reveal them, if the goal is to figure out what is the proper venue.

For what it's worth, both of the account holders deny being Virginia residents.

Since this is a request to Twitter, it's that company that is now on the hook here. Twitter has a pretty long history of pushing back on attempts to unmask anonymous or pseudonymous users by courts. It doesn't always succeed, but there are important issues at stake here. There are lots of times when angry recipients of parody accounts have tried to unmask who is mocking them. We see it all too often, and it's obviously an intimidation technique by thin-skinned public officials.

And, relatedly, the Supreme Court has ruled that anonymity itself is protected by the 1st Amendment, so these Twitter account holders shouldn't be forced to give that up just because a judge is curious, let alone because Devin Nunes' fragile ego is offended. While the judge can claim that he needs to know in order to determine if the case is in the proper venue, it seems that rather than requiring the names, merely knowing the general location (zip code?) of the account holders would seem to be a much more reasonable -- and Constitutional -- method of doing so.

Filed Under: anonymity, california, devin nunes, devin nunes cow, devin nunes mom, fishing expedition, parody, venue, virginia
Companies: twitter


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 4:23am

    I really hope Twitter fights this. Unmasking an otherwise anonymous speaker, even to a single person, can chill that speaker’s speech. No matter what someone else thinks of those parody accounts, the persons behind them deserve whatever level of anonymity they believe is necessary to run those accounts.

    (Bonus: Such a move would also piss off the people who complain about corporate censorship. 😁)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 4:51am

    Spartacus!

    I am Devin Nunes' Cow

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Matthew Cline (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:08am

    While the judge can claim that he needs to know in order to determine if the case is in the proper venue, it seems that rather than requiring the names, merely knowing the general location (zip code?) of the account holders would seem to be a much more reasonable

    Based on their IP addresses Twitter could (probably) determine which state they're in, but:

    1. Is that legally enough to establish where they live?
    2. If it is, can the judge legally just take Twitter's word for it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:11am

      Re:

      Based on their IP addresses Twitter could (probably) determine which state they're in, but:

      IP addresses don't work like that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:31am

      Re:

      If it is, can the judge legally just take Twitter's word for it?

      What do you imagine is the alternative to this? Unless one of the account holders steps forward voluntarily, there is literally nothing to do except take Twitter's word for it. And even if someone did voluntarily come forward, the judge would just be taking their word for it instead of Twitters. There is no possible scenario here in which the judge isn't going to "just take someone's word for it."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ben (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 7:58am

        Re: Re:

        Ah, but the judge could require them to affirm under oath that the information is true to the best of their knowledge. Yes, it is "taking their word for it", but the judge ends up holding a rather large club in case they are found to be lying.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:38am

      Re:

      "Based on their IP addresses Twitter could (probably) determine which state they're in"

      IP Addr can be spoofed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:58am

      Re:

      "Based on their IP addresses Twitter could (probably) determine which state they're in"

      No. They could potentially determine that the accounts were using an IP that appears as located in Virginia via a geolocation database. However that would not tell them if the are actually resident in Virginia (tourists and VPNs exist), plus geolocation databases have a number of known problems with being accurate.

      The best they could hope for is that the IPs they have are listed as being assigned to a local ISP that only operates in Virginia, but even that wouldn't prove they actually live there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    torrential rain, 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:08am

    splattering the blood

    The judge is a bought and paid for shill of this politician, just research the judges history. He is serving his master not the people who he supposedly represents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:51am

      Re: splattering the blood

      <Citation Needed>

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        lucidrenegade (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 7:38am

        Re: Re: splattering the blood

        I looked up the judge in this case, John Marshall. Looks like he became Chief Justice in 1801, so it's highly likely that he knows nothing of Twitter or IP addresses.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 7:45am

          Re: Re: Re: splattering the blood

          I looked up the judge in this case, John Marshall. Looks like he became Chief Justice in 1801, so it's highly likely that he knows nothing of Twitter or IP addresses.

          Forget Twitter or IP addresses, I'm now much more interested in the fact that they apparently know the secret to immortality.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:56am

      Re: splattering the blood

      just research the judges history

      And here we have the favourite trick of those who have no evidence for their claims, suggest its is available if other will just do the work.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:09am

    Constitution?

    Optional.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:51am

    "Marshall asked Twitter to provide the names and addresses of the anonymous authors behind the two accounts"

    ...and when they reply "we don't have that information", or the information turns out not to be true since there's no reason you have to give Twitter anything of the sort?

    "the gross amount of revenue for Twitter in 2018"

    https://www.google.com/search?q=twitter+gross+revenue+2018&oq=twitter+gross+revenue+2 018

    "the number of Twitter accounts in Virginia"

    How would they know?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 9:35am

      Re:

      and when they reply "we don't have that information", or the information turns out not to be true since there's no reason you have to give Twitter anything of the sort?

      Then the twitter execs will wake up in Devin Nune uncles basement, where Nune has his summer apartment (or was it the main thing?). Anyway the execs will have no joy when Devin Nunes horse kicks them because they cannot answer the simple questions Nune has

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:53am

    I would be surprised if Twitter doesn't know who the account holders are and where they were when each tweet happened down to the accuracy of the GPS in the Personalized Tracking Devices used to make the tweets. Even if they came from a desktop, IP address + time stamp would likely give a close location. Again, something a company profiting from targeted advertising would know. A VPN might allow for anonymous tweeting but many of those have proven less then truly anonymous.

    As far as venue, all the judge needs is a binary Yes the tweets in question came from Virginia, No they didn't. Based on that answer either dismiss for lack of venue or allow to proceed to discovery where the Constitutional questions could be argued.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rotanev, 30 Aug 2019 @ 6:00am

      Re:

      Even if they came from a desktop, IP address + time stamp would likely give a close location.

      Oh, really? My IP address is 104.254.90.187. What state am I in?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 6:15am

        Re: Re:

        "Oh, really? My IP address is 104.254.90.187. What state am I in?"

        I had a quick look on ARIN for a laugh and the primary 2 records say Ontario, Canada. They also say "ARIN has attempted to validate the data for this POC, but has received no response from the POC since 2015-11-10" and have a 3rd record stating Saskatchewan, which is only half a country away.

        So, clearly, an unimpeachable source of location data.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 6:03am

      Re:

      I would be surprised if Twitter doesn't know who the account holders are

      Well they probably didn't sign up with their real names so how would they know who they are?

      where they were when each tweet happened down to the accuracy of the GPS in the Personalized Tracking Devices used to make the tweets. Even if they came from a desktop, IP address + time stamp would likely give a close location.

      Not necessarily. The IP I get on my phone is often times from central exchange several hundred miles away. And if they use it on their phone, they could have blocked its access to the GPS system so Twitter wouldn't have that to fall back on. The same goes for a desktop. The IP you are assigned could be technically located at a central office/exchange hundreds of miles from your actual location. Twitter would have to check with the ISPs to find out who was actually assigned that IP. Then there's always IP spoofing and VPNs.

      A VPN might allow for anonymous tweeting but many of those have proven less then truly anonymous.

      Actually, in this case ANY VPN would be sufficient. The only times a VPN is not truly anonymous is if it leaks its DNS requests and your ISP sees it. Twitter wouldn't see that at all. All it would see is the originating IP which would be the exit point of the VPN.

      As far as venue, all the judge needs is a binary Yes the tweets in question came from Virginia, No they didn't.

      That assumes Twitter even has that information.

      Based on that answer either dismiss for lack of venue or allow to proceed to discovery where the Constitutional questions could be argued.

      It shouldn't even get to that point. As noted, it's clearly UN-constitutional and should be tossed immediately.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 6:06am

      Re:

      So.. you don't know how IPs work?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tom (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 10:13am

        Re: Re:

        Actually have a pretty good idea. Handed out by a DHCP server that keeps a log of the MAC address and a time/date record of when it was handed out and how long the lease has left. Baring the end user spoofing the MAC, it does tie it to a specific device. If it is a PTD, likely could be cross referenced to a SIM card and thus to a specific user. Given that all modern PTD include a GPS module, with a time/date stamp, you now can get a location down to the accuracy of the GPS unit, likely a few feet. Close enough to determine what state someone is in.

        A desktop probably won't have a GPS module but that hasn't kept Google from having my location to within a block or so in a urban location and a few miles in a rural setting. Not enough to prove specific end user for MPAA purposes but maybe enough to determine venue for a lawsuit.

        IMO - Nunes is a idiot for even trying this. If you go into politics, best plan on growing a thick skin.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 11:39am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Essentially correct but there are some points to be aware of.

          First off, the only entities that have access to all of that information are the person's ISP, and if we're talking cellphones and SIMs, only the carrier has that info. All Twitter sees is an IP, they don't see the MAC and they can only see the GPS if the device has that capability and the app has been granted permission to it. Also they wouldn't see it if they are just logging in through a mobile web browser.

          Second, supposing they are using a desktop, they don't have a GPS and the MAC is not tied to the MAC of their computer, it's tied to the MAC of their modem. Small difference, maybe, but important because it doesn't tie it to a user's device, only their modem. If they have an open wifi/network, anyone could have used it.

          Third, Google has more resources and data to be able to track someone's location more accurately. Most everyone else can only go off IP address. Case in point, Google sometimes tells me my desktop is in a city a few hundred miles away, depending on how my ISP is routing traffic.

          Fourth, as has been said, IP spoofing is a thing. When all you have to go off of is an IP (and you can't see the MAC or do a lookup, as is the case with Twitter), that makes it very unreliable for an accurate location. Plus there's also VPNs and TOR which will wreak all kinds of havoc in tying an IP to a specific user.

          All that to say, your basic statements about how IPs and DHCP work are essentially correct, but they don't apply in this instance. What you are thinking of is more of a LAN. Concept is the same on the internet but there are some differences that make tying an IP address to a user very unreliable.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 31 Aug 2019 @ 7:24am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yeah, this is what I meant - you seem to have some knowledge of the basics but not understanding of practical application.

          "Handed out by a DHCP server that keeps a log of the MAC address "

          Yes... but Twitter wouldn't have that info. If this was a demand of an ISP it would be a different story.

          "If it is a PTD, likely could be cross referenced to a SIM card and thus to a specific user."

          Assuming they are using a plain 4G connection and not a wifi router or VPN, sure. But Twitter still wouldn't have that.

          "Given that all modern PTD include a GPS module, with a time/date stamp, you now can get a location down to the accuracy of the GPS unit, likely a few feet."

          But, again, Twitter wouldn't have any such information unless the user has turned on location tracking, and even then if would be coming from the router/ISP rather than the device if they're connected to wifi.

          "Close enough to determine what state someone is in."

          Not if they're using a VPN or something else that hides their actual location. Also assuming that the location info tied to the IP is accurate, which is far from certain. Also assuming that the location data is something that their logs store in the first place rather than being transient data that's jettisoned.

          The basic fact is, while you're right about certain technical aspects, the actual information gathered by Twitter may not contain what you're thinking in any practical aspect.

          "Nunes is a idiot for even trying this. If you go into politics, best plan on growing a thick skin"

          Here, we agree.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 31 Aug 2019 @ 7:33am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Close enough to determine what state someone is in."

          Also, it's worth mentioning that where I live I can pick up mobile networks from Spain, Gibraltar or Morocco, and occasionally connect to the wrong one if I leave roaming on. So, no site I visit necessarily knows which country I'm connecting from, so it's folly to assume that everybody in a particular state is always correctly identified as being in that state.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:54am

    Someone might want to ask for a Judge who doesn't think you have to fill out a form with all of your personal details to post online.

    He believes Twitter has this information, which once again leads to the idea that Judges should have even minimal understanding of the cases before them.

    Now the Judge will be angry that Twitter isn't willing to provide the information, that they don't have, because hes demanded it. He knows one of their people can just tap on a keyboard and pull up entire dossiers on every user... he saw it on tv once.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 6:05am

      Re:

      He knows one of their people can just tap on a keyboard and pull up entire dossiers on every user... he saw it on tv once.

      And then they can just say "enhance!" and get an actual picture of the person as they were typing. (You can do anything with computers, you know).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 6:04am

    Fishing expedition much?

    Marshall asked Twitter to provide the names and addresses of the anonymous authors behind the two accounts, the gross amount of revenue for Twitter in 2018 and the first half of 2019 and the number of Twitter accounts in Virginia.

    From the source article:
    Nunes’ attorney through discovery motions has asked for the information Marshall is requesting. Marshall wrote that the information would be kept under seal.

    Ignoring for a moment the problems of Twitter handing over highly identifiable information in the form of names and addresses, rather than simply confirming or denying whether the accounts are for people located in virginia, how could how much Twitter made and how many Twitter users are located in virginia possibly be relevant to the case at hand?

    Honestly asking for such a wide range of useless data positively reeks of a fishing expedition and/or an attempt to make the lawsuit unnecessarily burdensome on Twitter in an attempt to force them to fold, and the judge really should have smacked them down for making such absurd and irrelevant demands, wasting everyone's time in the process.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Oninoshiko (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 2:28pm

      Re: Fishing expedition much?

      If I had to guess, A number of these types of laws determine how they affect a provider based on how much the provider brings in. The idea is that it's not fair to put the same burdens on a one-man-shop as a multi-billion dollar mega-corp. So, the court is probably going to use it to determine how much can be reasonably asked.

      It's also worth noting, Devin Nunes (or his attorneys) are not the ones getting this information. It's going to the judge, who then will make determinations.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 5:28pm

        Re: Re: Fishing expedition much?

        It's also worth noting, Devin Nunes (or his attorneys) are not the ones getting this information.

        I expect that if the judge dismisses the case he is going to tell Nunes the reason, which would probably reveal what state the defendants are in. Nunes can then go file in that state instead if it has weak or no anti-SLAPP laws.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Hephaestus, 30 Aug 2019 @ 6:36am

    Links please

    Can we get the links to the account so we can take a look?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 6:52am

    Nunes vs DavidNunesCow

    I think that if the defendant is going to be unmasked, they need to legally change their last name to DavidNunesCow because I would love to see that on the court docket. That'd be something to frame.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 7:55am

    Carnack the Magnificent rides again

    I am curious to know how David Nunes came about the assumption that two anonymous Twitter users lived in Virginia making that the proper venue for his lawsuit?

    Or were there two options, Virginia, convenient and no anti SLAPP law vs California (where two parties to the lawsuit actually do reside) which has a robust anti SLAPP law and is inconvenient? Tough choice for the self indulgent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 8:13am

      Re: Carnack the Magnificent rides again

      From a previous article it looks like there is at least one party involved that actually does live in virginia, Liz Mair, but the connection(and related lawsuits) are weak to say the least, such that Mair filed an argument in the court suggesting that they were lumped in basically just to avoid california's anti-SLAPP law.

      While Mair does live in Virginia, the filing notes that it appears she was included in part just to have a thin veneer of an excuse to file the case in Virginia, pointing out that filing in Virginia state court seems to be little more than forum shopping. The filing also directly calls out the anti-SLAPP issue:

      We can only assume that Mr. Nunes filed this case in Virginia because of his (mistaken) belief that if he filed in Virginia, its statute limiting strategic lawsuits against public participation (a.k.a. its anti-SLAPP statute)... would apply and the Virginia statute offers less protection to defendants in defamation suits than does the analogous anti-SLAPP statute in California.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 8:34am

        Re: Re: Carnack the Magnificent rides again

        Well, it appears I made more than one error. Still, it also appears that the inclusion of Liz Mair was merely to satisfy Nunes' agenda.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 8:43am

          Re: Re: Re: Carnack the Magnificent rides again

          That does seem to be the case, yes, adding someone who actually does live in virginia in order to dodge the much better california anti-SLAPP law, despite the fact that Nunes lives in and (theoretically) represents california, Twitter is based in california, and Twitter's TOS make clear legal action against the company is to be filed in california's courts.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 8:15am

    6 degrees of David Nunes

    Of course the judge doesn't "need" to know this information to make the appropriate ruling in this case, when lets say hypothetically the judge just happened to be:

    David Nunes's Fathers, Sisters , Uncles, Nephews, Wife's Best friend.. then you JUST NEED TO KNOW... amirite?

    Or perhaps the Judge is David Nunes's Mom's, Lover's, Brother's, Son's, Cow?

    I'm sure there is some "le·git·i·mate" reason the Judge has been told he needs to know this (not in any way implying that Judges do what they are told... it often requires financial incentives also)...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 8:18am

      Re: 6 degrees of David Nunes

      queue anonymity being stripped by Judge John Marshall in 3, 2, 1...

      I can just picture him wearing about a 2lb gold belt buckle with "J.J.M." engraved in bold, and a beat up black stetson...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 9:01am

    All the identities!

    Have they identified Nunes' hookers and coke suppliers, yet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 2:27pm

    Oh dear...

    Judge:sir I asked for the identities of these people now you need to give them to me or I’m going to have to consider this a violation.
    Twitter rep:”sigh” suit yourself..

    “Man enters court”

    IT WAS ME DIO!
    judge and nunes:NANNNIIIII??????!!!!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    a cow, 30 Aug 2019 @ 2:30pm

    moo

    Moo moo, moooo moo moo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Devin Nunes' Balls, 30 Aug 2019 @ 8:46pm

    Judge Marshall's Hot, Wet Mouth

    I'm betting my owner (well, he thinks he owns me) showed the judge those pictures he got that weekend his honor spent on his knees in a posh hotel room, on the taxpayer's dime. I don't remember much, really, but my friend Richard that lives just above me has told me stories...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Cory Booker's Cow, 30 Aug 2019 @ 8:51pm

    Spartacus

    I AM SPARTACUS!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    RICOROGS, 2 Sep 2019 @ 11:22pm

    HAHAHA....All that talk about IPs...

    FBI and NSA dont need no steenking warrant! James Comey’s “watering hole attack” has the warrant rendered obsolete+/- cell phone mirroring.

    From wired:
    https://www.wired.com/story/ios-attack-watering-hole-project-zero/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2019 @ 2:47pm

      Re:

      FBI and NSA dont need no steenking warrant!

      Yeah, they kind of do in most instances. Otherwise it's illegal and the judge would toss the case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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