Throughout our history, from our founding to our current era, the people of this nation have valued Government transparency and personal privacy. Our government seems to be fighting to take us in the completely opposite direction.
A court decision handed down today in US District Court of Virginia - Alexandria Division affects the privacy rights of not only US citizens, but anyone from any nation utilizing internet sites based in the US.
Follow me over the fold for the details
A district court judge in Virginia ruled against online privacy today, allowing U.S federal investigators to collect private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to Wikileaks. The judge also blocked the users' attempt to discover whether other Internet companies have been ordered to turn their data over to the government.
The information they were seeking, per the decision (pg 7 & 8), was as follows
1) subscriber names, user names, screen names or other identities;
2) mailing addresses, residential addresses, business addresses, email addresses, and other contact information;
3) connection records, or records of session times and durations;
4) length of service (including start date), and types of service utilized;
5) telephone or instrument number or other subscriber number or identity, including any temporary assigned network address, and
6) means and source of payment for such service (including any credit card or bank account number) and billing records.
B) All records and other information relating to the account(s) and the time period in Part A, including:
1. records of user activity for any connection made to or from the Account, including the date, time, length, and method of connections, data transfer volume, user name, and source and destination Internet Protocol address(es);
2. non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by or for the account(s), such as the source and destination email addresses and IP addresses.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan's order isn't a traditional subpoena. Rather, it's what's known as a 2703(d) order, which allows police to obtain certain records from a Web site or Internet provider if they are "relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation."
That's not as privacy-protective as a search warrant, which is one reason EFF objected. The ruling, Bankston says, means that "essentially any data about you collected by an Internet service is fair game for warrantless searches by the government." (EFF, Google, Facebook, eBay, and many other groups are seeking to change federal privacy law to require warrants for content-related information, such as the text of e-mail or direct messages.)
Twitter, to its credit fought release of this information and requested that the gag order it was under to not notify the users be lifted. This allowed the three users to participate in fighting this disclosure with the help of the EFF and the ACLU. It bears to note that only one of the users is a US citizen.
The targeted Twitter account holders – who included Seattle programmer Jacob Appelbaum, Icelandic Parliament member Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Dutch businessman Rop Gonggrijp – renewed their criticism of the demand shortly after O'Grady's decision was released.
“With this decision, the court is telling all users of online tools hosted in the US that the US government will have secret access to their data,” Jonsdottir said in a statement. “People around the world will take note. I am very disappointed in today's ruling because it is a huge backward step for the United States' legacy of freedom of expression and the right to privacy.”
EFF is urging other companies to follow Twitter's lead, stand with their customers, and promise to inform users when their data is sought by the government, as part of the Who Has Your Back? campaign.
"When you use the Internet, you entrust your online conversations, thoughts, experiences, locations, photos, and more to dozens of companies who host or transfer your data," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "In light of that technological reality, we are gravely worried by the court's conclusion that records about you that are collected by Internet services like Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Google are fair game for warrantless searches by the government."
I don't think anyone assumes any right to privacy for things posted on social networking sites. It seems seriously out of control though, that our government can secure information about every IP address we use to access the accounts, all our banking and credit card information associated with those accounts and the IP addresses of everyone we have contact with, all without a warrant.
Our DOJ should not have this authority. Sadly, this judge thinks otherwise. I see this ruling is having a chilling impact on free speech.