Revelations about the NSA's secret PRISM program has made transparent many unsettling aspect of the U.S. surveillance apparatus. Among them is the fact that the NSA has seemingly unfettered server access to some of the country's largest internet companies.
Twitter, however, has stood out as not being among them.
A central reason for Twitter's refusal to join PRISM, and for its bulldog approach to protecting users' privacy – often brushing off intimidation attempts by the government – is the fact that its top lawyer, Alex Macgillivray, refuses to back down under pressure.
This is detailed in an interesting piece published by The Verge, which I highly recommend. In it, Adrianne Jeffries begins:
Twitter’s refusal to join PRISM highlighted the fact that the company has a history of being uncooperative, and often antagonistic, when the government asks for user data.Jeffries notes that, while Twitter complies with 69 percent of government request, that number is wildly lower than other internet companies. For example, Google, which prides itself on protecting users' privacy and rights, complies with 88 percent of government requests for private data.
Current and previous employees of Twitter point to the company’s top lawyer, Alex Macgillivray, a smart, serious, and strong-willed advocate who believes Twitter is a platform for free expression and must remain as neutral as a pen. Macgillivray, who everyone simply calls "Amac" (pronounced "eh-mack") after his Twitter handle, "doesn’t give a shit" when the government comes knocking with demands and intimidation.
While there may be a number of reasons why Twitter is able to reject requests at a higher rate, including the fact that it collects far less personal information than other companies, it's also clear that the internet maven is aggressive when it comes to standing up to government demands for information and access.
In the past, Twitter has fought the government on handing over data associated with WikiLeaks (won) and pushed back against NYPD demands to hand over Occupy Wall Street protesters' account information (lost).
The reason? Macgillivray’s "pro-user, damn-the-man attitude."
Every internet company should have a general counsel so predisposed. And every internet user should applaud Twitter for employing a lawyer with the chutzpah to place users' rights over government demands.