Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Twitter Fights for User Rights

In this article by the author brings to our attention how Twitter responded to government pressure and court orders to reveal information on WikiLeaks and some of it's main personal.

And while many may not agree with how WikiLeaks did their release of classified information (I count my self in that group) we can all be proud of how Twitter stood up for the user rights of all of us who use Twitter.

For in this case as in most cases the government acquired their court order for the release of the information on these Twitter users through their normal rubber stamp channel and it contained the standard gag order they ask for in such cases as well.

This means that unless Twitter fights to have that order overturned they not only have to turn over the information requested they can't tell the user or anyone else it's been served with the order. So the user has no chance of even knowing that their information has been requested much less turned over to the agencies involved.

That goes against the whole principal of due process and the presumption of innocence as well as denies the right to protection against unwarranted search and seizure. People, except in the most damaging or dangerous of cases, including those involved in WikiLeaks deserve to know when and by whom they are being investigated. And they should have the right to appear and face those who accuse them in a court of law and in so doing have the right to demand their constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Only then can a court order be said to have been obtained lawfully in such cases. And Twitter defended that principal by going to court and having the gag order overturned. Once that order was removed they then notified those named in the court order so as to allow them to both protect their information and to appear in court to fight their information being released.

For that Twitter deserves our respect and support. Taking on the government and protecting the rights of it's users from these kinds of stealth government fishing expeditions for information took courage and a stand for principal not often seen by companies today.

So thank you Twitter. You've shown remarkably great courage and strength of convection in taking on the fight for all of your users and I for one applaud you.

Now if we can just get other companies to quit rolling over and playing dead we can begin to have the privacy we are untitled to once again protected from those who seek to destroy it.

Amplify’d from

Twitter’s Response to WikiLeaks Subpoena Should Be the Industry Standard

Twitter beta-tested a spine.

On Friday, it emerged that the U.S. government recently got a court order demanding that Twitter turn over information about a number of people connected to WikiLeaks, including founder Julian Assange, accused leaker Pfc. Bradley Manning, former WikiLeaks spokeswoman Birgitta Jonsdottir and WikiLeaks activist Jacob Appelbaum.

The request was approved by a magistrate judge in Alexandria, Virginia, where a federal grand jury is looking into charges against WikiLeaks related to its acquisition and publishing of U.S.-government classified information.

The court order came with a gag order that prevented Twitter from telling anyone, especially the targets, about the request’s existence.

To Twitter’s credit, the company didn’t just open up its database, find the information the feds were seeking (such as the IP and e-mail addresses used by the targets) and quietly continue on with building new features. Instead the company successfully challenged the gag order in court, and then told the targets their data was being requested, giving them time to try and quash the order themselves.

Twitter and other companies, notably Google, have a policy of notifying a user before responding to a subpoena, or a similar request for records. That gives the user a fair chance to go to court and try and quash the subpoena. That’s a great policy. But it has one fatal flaw. If the 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.

That’s what makes Twitter’s move so important. It briefly carried the torch for its users during that crucial period when, because of the gag order, its users couldn’t carry it themselves. 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.

The decision would be laudable in almost any situation, and may even be unprecendented by a massive tech firm. The only other gag orders I can think of that were challenged in court were those served on the Internet Archive, on a small library and on Nicholas Merrill, the president of the small New York City ISP Calyx Internet Access, who spent years resisting a National Security Letter order seeking information about one of his clients.

Even more remarkable, Twitter’s move comes as a litany of companies, including PayPal, Mastercard, VISA and Bank of America, follow the political winds away from the First Amendment, banning donations to WikiLeaks. And voluntarily threw the site off its hosting platform, even though there’s nothing illegal in publishing classified documents.

By standing up for its users, Twitter showed guts and principles. Much of it is likely attributable to Twitter’s general counsel Alexander Macgillivray. As security and privacy blogger Christopher Soghoian notes, Macgillivray was one of the first law students at Harvards’ Berkman internet law center and at in his previous job at Google “played a major role in getting the company to contribute takedown requests to”

Of course, it’s not the first time tech companies have stood up to requests for user data. Google beat back a government order to turn over search logs in 2006, after AOL and Microsoft quietly acquiesced. We’ve seen ISPs stand up for their users when movie studios try to force ISPs turn over user information in mass peer-to-peer lawsuits. And just last year, Yahoo successfully resisted the Justice Department’s argument that it didn’t need a warrant to read a user’s e-mails once the user had read them.

But there’s not yet a culture of companies standing up for users when governments and companies come knocking with subpoenas looking for user data or to unmask an anonymous commenter who says mean things about a company or the local sheriff.

In the WikiLeaks probe, it’s not yet clear whether the feds dropped the same order on other companies.

Regardless, Twitter deserves recognition for its principled upholding of the spirit of the First Amendment. It’s a shame that PayPal, Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America and the U.S. government all failed — and continue to to fail — at their own versions of that test.


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