Twitter is the next target
Last week I wrote about how the government wants to take control over social media and how unnecessary it is. A reader named Blue Dotterel left this remark on the website: “Freedom in today’s world is for large transnational corporations, not ordinary people (although corporations are ‘people’ according to U.S. law). In the U.S. and other “democracies,” corporations are becoming less accountable to the public, virtually lawless in their actions as laws like Glass-Steagle are removed and agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership are negotiated. Meanwhile, personal freedoms are being restricted, as with flying and the TSA. The Internet will also become more controlled.”
Last week what Twitter had to go through proved her/him right. According to an article by James Kirk of Computer World, Twitter has lost a fight in which it challenged a court order to turn over public but now deleted Twitter messages written by an Occupy Wall Street protestor without being served a search warrant. The social networking site was served with a subpoena on Jan. 26 asking it for the tweets and account information of Malcolm Harris, who has been charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly marching with hundreds of others on the Brooklyn Bridge last October in defiance of police orders. New York Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. wrote in his ruling on Saturday that public Twitter messages are not the same as an email, a private direct message or a private chat, which would require a search warrant. “If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy,” Sciarrino wrote. “There is no proprietary interest in your tweets, which you have now gifted to the world.”
Naturally, this ruling got lots of negative comments from NGOs. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has been monitoring the case, said the court failed to grasp that users do not give up their free speech and privacy rights when using the Internet.
Unfortunately, NGO protests don’t mean much these days. Therefore, Twitter issues a list of data requests by country as a report to challenge authorities publicly.
The report begins with this sentence: “Wednesday marks Independence Day here in the United States. Beyond the fireworks and barbecues, July 4th serves as an important reminder of the need to hold governments accountable, especially on behalf of those who may not have a chance to do so themselves.” The statement goes on stating that “Along with publishing our Transparency Report, we’re also partnering with Herdict, which ‘collects and disseminates real-time, crowdsourced information about Internet filtering, denial of service attacks, and other blockages.’ This new partnership aims to drive more traffic and exposure to Herdict, while also empowering the web community at large to help keep an eye on whether users can access Twitter around the world.”
In the U.S., Twitter fielded 679 requests for user information from Twitter, involving 948 accounts. There were 98 requests in Japan for information from 147 accounts, and Canada and the U.K. both had 11 requests, with the other countries listed as having fewer than 10. Twitter provided the information requested in 63 percent of the cases overall, but did not specify how many of the cases were made by governments seeking user data in connection with criminal investigations. There were two court-ordered content removal requests from Greece and one from Turkey. France, Pakistan and the U.K. each had one removal request from a government agency, police, or other, but none of the content was removed. Meanwhile, Twitter received 3,378 copyright takedown notices over the past six months and complied in 38 percent of them, removing 5,275 tweets and 599 pieces of media. Twitter did not provide specifics of any of the cases.
I hope that in the next report Twitter will provide us with more details so that we will be able investigate the reasons for censorship in a broader manner.