The US government failed to uphold its own principles by unlocking WikiLeaks-related Twitter accounts

Birgitta Jonsdottir

Birgitta Jonsdottir

The precedent has been set and it’s a very bad one.

A US judge ruled that Twitter must release all of the details of Birgitta Jonsdottir’s account, as well as two others. Their links to WikiLeaks has put them under the scrutiny of the Justice Department after last year’s video of US helicopters shooting two Reuters reporters in Iraq. Speculation is that Jonsdottir is not the target but rather a piece of the case they’re currently building against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“This is a huge blow for everybody that uses social media,” said Jonsdottir. “We have to have the same civil rights online as we have offline. Imagine if the US authorities wanted to do a house search at my home, go through my private papers. There would be a hell of a fight. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”

She’s right. Breaching the privacy boundaries set within social media is something that the US government should be fighting to avoid, not promoting. The Inter-Parlimentary Union agrees, unanimously voting last month to condemn the Justice Department’s move.

There’s a loophole in Twitter’s (and most other social network’s) terms of use that Judge Liam O’Grady invoked.

“Petitioners knew or should have known that their IP information was subject to examination by Twitter, so they had a lessened expectation of privacy in that information, particularly in light of their apparent consent to the Twitter terms of service and privacy policy,” O’Grady wrote.

Using such loopholes falls well within legal rights but exposes a fallacy in policy. The United States was built upon giving freedoms and rights to its people. These rights are being trampled upon every time they loophole their way into our private lives. Agree or disagree with what WikiLeaks does, it’s far less egregious than prying into the private lives of people in or outside of the country who are using the internet to promote their opinions and push forward their stances for or against the government.

There would be no court orders to “right a wrong” if it wasn’t the US government itself that was made to look bad. If, say, the French government wanted the US to force Twitter to open accounts that were used to make them look bad, the door would have been slammed in their face. It’s convenient to apply loopholes to build a case against a man and an organization that embarrassed the US government, but it goes against the foundation upon which the country was built.

The US government has every right to build its case against Assange or do what it needs to do to keep its own dirty laundry from reaching the public, but infringing on a person’s rights to privacy on the internet is going too far.

By Connor Livingston

+Connor Livingston is a tech blogger who will be launching his own site soon, Lythyum. He lives in Oceanside, California, and has never surfed in his life. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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