Privacy

Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Government: Love the Twitter, Hate the Tweet

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The UK Guardian finds irony in Hillary Clinton's recent praise for Twitter's role in Mid East revolution while her government pressures Twitter in court over WikiLeaks matters:

Lawyers for civil rights organisations appeared before a judge in Alexandria, Virginia, battling against a US government order to disclose the details of private Twitter accounts in the WikiLeaks row, including that of the Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir….

The court case…centres round the release of tens of thousands of Pentagon and state department classified documents by WikiLeaks. Outraged by the leaks, the US has set up a grand jury in secret, based in Alexandria, to investigate whether grounds can be found for a criminal case against WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange. As part of that investigation the grand jury ordered Twitter to disclose the details of the accounts of WikiLeaks and three people said to be linked to the organisation.

The investigation also covers Bradley Manning….The court hearing broke up without any ruling by the judge.

More on the story and the legal issues involved from Bloomberg News:

U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan in Alexandria, during an hour-long hearing today, considered a challenge to her order requiring Twitter to give investigators data on subscribers "associated with WikiLeaks," including its leader, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning, a U.S. soldier charged with leaking classified information.

"The government says there's no expectation of privacy when logging into Twitter," John Keker, a San Francisco-based lawyer representing one of the WikiLeaks backers [said]…"It is incredibly powerful to know who the opposition is and who they're working with," Keker said, citing as an example Egypt and Tunisia, where citizens used social networks to push for regime changes.

Buchanan questioned Keker's argument that turning over the information would violate Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless searches and seizures by the government…."What they're seeking is location data and timing data," Buchanan said.

The government's order was initially a secret, but Judge Buchanan unsealed it on Jan. 5, which allowed Twitter to tell the targeted folk they were being targeted.

Three subscribers whose records are being sought are Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher, who represented WikiLeaks at a 2010 hacker's conference in New York; Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament, elected to a four-year term in 2009; and Rop Gonggrijp, described in court papers as a Dutch activist and businessman who helped found the first public Internet service provider in the Netherlands….

Twitter negotiated with the government to restrict the time frame of the order to activity from Nov. 15, 2009, to June 1, 2010, and limit the scope of the information being sought, according to court papers.

The three are asking Buchanan to force investigators to seek a warrant for the information. A search warrant would mean the government has shown probable cause, a higher hurdle than the "relevant" and "material" standard under the Stored Communications Act, on which Buchanan based her order….

John Davis, an assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria, said in court today that the government's request from Twitter was routine.

"This is a standard—as this court knows well—investigative measure used in criminal investigations every day of the year all over the country," Davis said.

Alas, it is all too standard. Defenders of transparency and the "freedom to connect" Clinton specifically praised could make the case that there is no irony– that she is merely implicitly for all openness all the time, including of whatever is being kept secret about the Twitter accounts the government wants to dip into.

First of all, of course she isn't. But second, the differences between private openness and openness for the governments that tax and rule allegedly in our name are worth keeping in mind when thinking about privacy and openness.