The Great Debate

My tweets refuse to be subpoenaed

When I saw an email from Twitter Legal in my inbox, I figured it was spam. Data phishers use those kind of emails to steal user passwords, but this was a genuine warning from the social media giant. The New York District Attorney’s office had filed a subpoena requesting my account information and all of my tweets from last September to the end of the year. Twitter had attached the subpoena, and there was my handle, called by the County of New York to testify against me, the person it represents.

My tweets were being called to testify against their creator because on Oct. 1 of last year I was one of more than 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge as part of an Occupy Wall Street action. We had planned to march over the pedestrian walkway, but the crowd was too large. The police retreated and allowed us to cross half the bridge before kettling and arresting the entire crowd. I had my phone with me and was using Twitter to spread information to people following at home, as well as people behind me in the march. After a short stint in a cell, I was charged with disorderly conduct and released. I pleaded not guilty, not because I didn’t block traffic, but because I believe the march across the bridge was a constitutionally protected form of political speech.

To try to prepare a convincing case that I intended to block traffic, the district attorney has requested over three months of my tweets, as well as any information attached to my account, including my password and email address. The scope of the request extends back to Sept. 15, two days before the occupation of Zuccotti Park began. Since the subpoena is related only to the disorderly conduct charge, the prosecutors want to look through my tweets — preferably without me knowing — for content from weeks before and months after Oct. 1. That wastes taxpayer dollars and some poor trial prep assistant’s time for what amounts to little more than a politically motivated traffic ticket. My attorney soon informed Twitter of his intention to file a motion to quash the subpoena on four different grounds, and they have agreed not to disclose anything for the time being, at least until a judge rules on the motion later this month.

To anyone who has seen a single episode of Law and Order, this looks like a clear misuse of prosecutorial power, using trial preparation for investigative ends. The surreal subpoena calls for a witness named “Twitter, Inc.” to appear in court and produce the documents or face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, and ends with a gag request attempting to cajole Twitter into not disclosing the search to, well, me. Thankfully Twitter did not abide by that last part. They don’t comment on specific cases (even to those involved in one, like me), but Twitter’s official policy is to inform users when their information is requested unless legally required not to. In this case, they were smart not to take the prosecutors’ word as gospel; the gag request wasn’t binding.

So far there have only been a handful of these electronic subpoenas, all of which (including mine), have been aggregated by Anonymous hackers as part of what they’ve named “#opsubpoenathis.” Local police in Boston subpoenaed two accounts (including @occupyboston) and — bizarrely — two hashtags. In Plano, Texas, authorities subpoenaed the WordPress blog records of Occupy Plano. What we can see across the country is the modest beginning of a national move toward the use of activists’ legal electronic communications against them. Treating it as the serious threat to Internet freedom and political speech that it is, the National Lawyers Guild, Electronic Frontiers Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union have all lent their assistance in the legal efforts.

from Paul Smalera:

The piracy of online privacy

Online privacy doesn’t exist. It was lost years ago. And not only was it taken, we’ve all already gotten used to it. Loss of privacy is a fundamental tradeoff at the very core of social networking. Our privacy has been taken in service of the social tools we so crave and suddenly cannot live without. If not for the piracy of privacy, Facebook wouldn’t exist. Nor would Twitter. Nor even would Gmail, Foursquare, Groupon, Zynga, etc.

And yet people keep fretting about losing what’s already gone. This week, like most others of the past decade, has brought fresh new outrages for privacy advocates. Google, which a few weeks ago changed its privacy policy to allow the company to share your personal data across as many as 60 of its products, was again castigated this week for the changes. Except this time, the shouts came in the form of a lawsuit. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the FTC to compel it to block Google’s changes, saying they violated a privacy agreement Google signed less than a year ago.

Elsewhere, social photography app Path was caught storing users’ entire iPhone address books on their servers and have issued a red-faced apology. (The lesser-known app Hipster committed the same sin and also offered a mea culpa.) And Facebook’s IPO has brought fresh concerns that Mark Zuckerberg will find creative new ways to leverage user data into ever more desirable revenue-generating products.

from Paul Smalera:

Twitter’s censorship is a gray box of shame, but not for Twitter

Twitter’s announcement this week that it was going to enable country-specific censorship of posts is arousing fury around the Internet. Commentators, activists, protesters and netizens have said it’s “very bad news” and claim to be “#outraged”. Bianca Jagger, for one, asked how to go about boycotting Twitter, on Twitter, according to the New York Times. (Step one might be... well, never mind.) The critics have settled on #TwitterBlackout: all day on Saturday the 28th, they promised to not tweet, as a show of protest and solidarity with those who might be censored.

Here’s the thing: Like Twitter itself, it’s time for the Internet, and its chirping classes, to grow up. Twitter’s policy and its transparency pledge with the censorship watchdog Chilling Effects is the most thoughtful, honest and realistic policy to come out of a technology company in a long time. Even an unsympathetic reading of the new censorship policy bears that out.

To understand why, let’s unpack the policy a bit: First, Twitter has strongly implied it will not remove content under this policy. If that doesn’t sound like a crucial distinction from outright censorship, it is. Taking the new policy with existing ones, the only time Twitter says it will ever remove a tweet altogether is in response to a DMCA request. The DMCA may have its own flaws, but it is a form of censorship that lives separately from the process Twitter has outlined in this recent announcement. Where the DMCA process demands a deletion of copyright-infringing content, Twitter’s censorship policy promises no such takedown: it promises instead only to withhold censored content from the country where the content has been censored. Nothing else.

Stopping the Stop Online Piracy Act

Now that Congress has hit pause on its controversial Stop Online Piracy Act and nearly every argument about the merits and failings of the piece of copyright legislation has been made, it’s a good time to ask: what, in 2012, will it take to actually stop a bill like this?

Because despite the delay, the situation still isn’t looking so hot for those looking to bring down SOPA. Amendments to tone down the bill’s more disliked points have been routinely defeated in the House Judiciary Committee by numbers sufficient to pass the bill to the full House floor.

But, at this point in the process, numbers aren’t everything. In the wake of the Arab Spring, talk of censoring technology hits the ears differently. More important is that in SOPA’s short two-month life, opposition to it has catalyzed online and off. But to succeed, its opponents will have to both boost the volume of their public alarm and convince Congress that, in an Internet-soaked 2012, questioning SOPA needn’t be politically fatal.

Is social media losing its lure … and return on investment?


How do you know that social media is folded into the narrative of American life? Perhaps when people are being encouraged to give it up for a religious holiday.

Offlining Inc., a group of Silicon Valley types, is promoting the occasional break from social media and tech devices in general by blasting an ad showing Lindsay Lohan. The message: “You don’t have to be Jewish to make amends for your tweets on Yom Kippur.”

It’s a good idea — we could all use time off from our iPhones, not to mention Twitter, Facebook, et al. But Americans don’t actually spend that much time on social media. Which is good because the reason many people have embraced social media (which would be marketing) is turning out to have a lousy return on investment, if you consider the opportunity cost of time.

Is Twitter work?

JAPAN-ELECTION/INTERNETThe following is a guest post by Laura Vanderkam, author of “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” and “Grindhopping: Build a Rewarding Career without Paying Your Dues.” She is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors. This piece originally appeared on her blog. The opinions expressed are her own.

In “168 Hours,” I talk about trying to distinguish between “work” and “not-really-work.” Work means activities that are advancing you toward your career goals. I like this definition, because it forces us to examine how we spend our hours closely.

We do plenty of things at work that are not-really-work, even if they look like it. A meeting that you didn’t need to attend, or that went on long past the point of diminishing returns is, by this definition, disguised and ineffective leisure time. On the other hand, coffee with a friend, during which you discuss your career plans, is work.

from The Great Debate UK:

One Young World: let’s hear it from the under-25s


Amid the ongoing global conversation about the economy, and projections about when -- and in which markets -- the world might emerge from financial crisis, the collective voice of the 25-and-under age group is hard to hear.

It could have been silenced due to a sense of futility about challenging the so-called Establishment, or it might be online -- constrained by such social media outlets as Facebook and Twitter.

Whatever the case, advertising and communications agency Euro RSCG Worldwide is taking measures to get the under-25s to speak up on such issues as the environment, health and education at an event called One Young World, which will be held from February 8-10 in London.

from The Great Debate UK:

Are publication bans outdated in the Internet era?

IMG01299-20100115-2004The debate over freedom of expression and the impact of social networking on democratic rights in the courts is in focus in Canada after a Facebook group became the centre of controversy when it may have violated a publication ban.

The group, which has more than 7,000 members, was set up to commemorate the murder of a 2-year-old boy in Oshawa, Ontario.

The breach of a publication ban could lead to a mistrial, a fine and even jail time. Violating a ban could taint the opinions of witnesses or jurors, and the news media must wait to report information protected under a publication ban until after the trial is over.

from The Great Debate UK:

Remembering how to forget in the Web 2.0 era

Amid ongoing debates over the hazards of excessive digital exposure through such Web 2.0 social networking platforms as Facebook and Twitter, a new book by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger extols the virtues of forgetfulness.

Since the emergence of digital technology and global networks, forgetting has become an exception, Mayer-Schonberger writes in "Delete".

"Forgetting plays a central role in human decision-making," he argues. "It lets us act in time, cognizant of, but not shackled by, past events."

from The Great Debate UK:

Internet freedom prevails over Guardian gag order

padraig_reidy- Padraig Reidy is news editor at Index on Censorship. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Solicitors Carter-Ruck have withdrawn the terms of an injunction preventing the Guardian from reporting a parliamentary question by Newcastle-under-Lyme Labour MP and former journalist Paul Farrelly.

This has been seen - rightly -  as a victory for free expression, and a demonstration of the amazing power of the web in the face of attempted censorship.