It’s been a pretty frantic week and weekend. Nothing can diminish the impact of the events in Japan, Libya and Bahrain in the past days. But that doesn’t mean that news publications and sites can take a powder on important stories for the American public.
On Friday, a federal judge in Virginia upheld the US government’s request for private records and information for Twitter accounts. What does this mean? It means that for all intents and purposes, there is no longer any such thing as online anonymity. The Twitter and similar accounts of Americans and world citizens–including the IP addresses used to access the sites–will be free for the perusal of the DOJ, and presumably other agencies, whether or not you’re accused of a crime. Under the Stored Communications Act, simply having been in contact with, or having read, or responded to online material that the US claims is relevant to an investigation can now be the basis for the government looking at your private records on sites such as Twitter, and, I assume, Facebook. No warrant is necessary, nor is notification obligated. The only reason there was even a case here, was because Twitter took it upon itself to advise it’s clients of the request by the DOJ.
What does this mean for the putative new era of Twitter/Facebook revolutions? Can the US government share Twitter and Facebook account information with, for example, the Egyptian authorities, which last time I checked, have indefinite detention and use torture? Did they? I wonder, too.
Neither CNN.com, nor the New York Times covered the ruling as of Tuesday, March 15. This is journalism in the public interest. No, it’s not Tsunami level. But it does mean that the only conceivable public space left to make an anonymous comment will be the country’s toilet stalls. So keep a Sharpie handy.
This is a pretty good account of the case.