Government Seeks Twitter Info About Political Activists

What do you have to hide, eh?


In a disturbing trend that can have a chilling effect on free speech, law enforcement agencies around the country are seeking wide-ranging information about the social networking activity of political activists. The San Francisco District Attorney recently issued subpoenas to Twitter for tweets by two political protesters, Lauren Smith and Robert Donohoe, who had been charged with rioting and unlawful assembly during a Columbus Day demonstration last year. They had been active on Twitter but disabled their accounts after the protest.

The ACLU and EFF filed a brief in support of the protesters' motion to quash the subpoenas. The ACLU/EFF brief explains that the subpoenas are woefully overbroad and violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

Good news: after we filed our brief, the San Francisco DA agreed to withdraw the subpoenas. Government surveillance of what we say—even when we say it in a public setting like Twitter but then decide to delete it—can have a chilling effect on speech. Saying something to a friend or neighbor is a very different thing than having one's opinions and views recorded in a government file.