Late last Friday
the Department of Justice obtained a court order requesting user data
from some Twitter accounts associated with WikiLeaks. The government's
request, which is unusual because it became public
, has since been challenged by the micro-blogging site. Twitter has, by some measures, resisted
and was able to inform users
the government was requesting account data. Now that order has become
public, some pundits are wondering whether other companies (like
Facebook and Google, who the government presumably also requested
information from) will follow suit:
- What the Court Order Says At Geekosystem, Max Eddy
lists the information the government has requested from the
micro-blogging site. "The order requires Twitter to provide information
on specific users, such as IP addresses, physical addresses, and banking
information," Eddy writes. So far, only a handful of users have been
acknowledged as targets of the probe, including Icelandic Member of
Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir and Dutch programmer Rop Gonggrijp."
- 'Twitter Beta-Tested a Spine' Wired's Ryan Singel
underscores the most important part of Twitter's move to challenge the
government's gag order. Normally, "if the [government's] records request
comes with a gag order, the company can't notify anyone. And it’s quite
routine for law enforcement to staple a gag order to a records
request." Twitter, in contrast, "briefly carried the torch for its users
during that crucial period when, because of the gag order, its users
couldn't carry it themselves," Singel writes. "The company's action in
asking for the gag order to be overturned sets a new precedent that we
can only hope that other companies begin to follow." While Twitter isn't
the first tech company to fend of government requests for user data, it
appears to be one of the few that's actually showing "guts" and taking a
stand for its principles.
- But Why Was It the Only Company
To Challenge the Subpoena? "It's reasonable to assume" that the person
leading or "playing a significant role" in challenging the "secrecy
aspect" of the order is Alexander Macgillivray (Twitter's General
Consul), writes Fast Company's E.B. Boyd.
"By making the subpoena public, Twitter takes itself out of the drama"
and gets to play the role of "good citizen." Macgillvray's guidance may
set the company apart from Google and Facebook in the response to the
assumed records request. "We may never know [if Google and Facebook
caved to the request], notes Boyd. "But if they did, it may in part be
due to the fact that they did not have a cyber-law bricoleur like Macgillivray helping them think through their possible options."
- This Could Be a 'Desperate Gesture' on the Justice Department's Part At NextGov, Dawn Lim
figures that "the backlash the subpoena has triggered--and the awkward
position in which it puts Justice--could outweigh the intelligence value
of the data that would be obtained." The reason why the Justice
Department's move is "particularly naive" is that Twitter "operates as a
microblogging platform, and is only secondarily a direct messaging
service. Because of the 140 character limit, Twitter is an unlikely
vessel for the business of leaking." Futhermore, "that WikiLeaks'
640,000 followers think they are targets of this subpoena puts Justice
in a public relations soup it didn't anticipate," points out Lim. "The
original subpoena, issued Dec. 14, was a sealed order. Once Twitter
successfully contested the secrecy of that order, obtaining the right to
alert those mentioned in the subpoena, the story blew up."
Twitter Followers Feeling Nervous "WikiLeaks lost nearly 3,000
followers in the several hours after the [subpoena] announcement,"
observes Parmy Olson at Forbes. "But WikiLeaks Tweeted yesterday:
'Too late to unfollow; trick used is to demand the lists, dates and IPs
of all who received our Twitter messages.'" Which begs the question:
what information does Twitter have about Wikileaks followers? Olson uses
Dutch programmer Rop Gonggrijp--one person the government is seeking
information about--as an example:
Gonggrijp says on a post this morning
that it has his Tweets, which are publicly accessible, and the IP
numbers he connected from. He doesn’t use Twitter all that much,
choosing to post through a plugin on his blog, and never uses it to send
or receive private messages. "In other words, he writes, "what Twitter
has on me is unspectacular." He believes his inclusion on the list of
names has something to do with WikiLeaks’ release of the 'Collateral Murder"
video last April, which shows the shooting of a Reuters photographer
and several civilians from a U.S. helicopter over Baghdad. Gonggrijp had
travelled to Iceland to help disseminate the video.
- It's Not Technically a Subpoena, It's a 'Judicially-Authorized Order' also known as a "D-order" explains Julian Sanchez
at the Cato Institute. "Unlike traditional wiretaps, D-order requests
for data aren’t even subject to mandatory reporting requirements--which
means surveillance geeks may be confident this sort of thing is fairly
routine, but the general public lacks any real sense of just how
pervasive it is," writes Sanchez. "Whatever your take on WikiLeaks,
then, this rare peek behind the curtain is one more reminder that our
digital privacy laws are long overdue for an upgrade."
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