United States Gov't Makes Most Demand on Twitter

By Steve Anderson August 15, 2012

Recently, a set of surprisingly childish threats made their way to Twitter, promising death and destruction at a Broadway theater showing a one-man show featuring none other than former heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson.

While police took the threats seriously, beefing security at the theater to match, it also unveiled a rather unexpected – and entirely more ominous – development about just how much the United States government is asking out of Twitter in terms of cooperation.

With the recent "Arab Spring" events from Libya, Egypt and Iran last year, the United States Government has gotten an eyeful of just what kind of power Twitter can have in terms of organizing dissent. Occupy Wall Street protests have used it, and several criminal investigations – like those of the recent Tyson show tweets – have used it to keep an eye on those using it to stage protests and other actions.

Out of 849 requests for Twitter users' information from around the world between January 1 and June 30, 679 of those requests came from the United States government. Twitter, meanwhile, acceded to said requests 75 percent of the time, which in turn represents more granted requests than in all of 2011.

Naturally, Twitter is quick to reassure users that they only forked over information to the government in support of "criminal investigations," but that still leaves more than a few people unsettled.

Take, for example, Malcom Harris, an Occupy protestor arrested during the Brooklyn Bridge march on charges of "disorderly conduct," which could mean just about anything. Harris' Twitter information had been subpoenaed a month prior to his arrest, however, and even Twitter objected to that one.

Moreover, Boston police recently demanded access to Twitter's files for every account related to either @OccupyBoston or #BostonPD, a much larger swath and a much more disturbing request.

See Russia Times America’s report on FBI access to Facebook accounts below.

Users have come to rely on the Internet as a free exchange of ideas, but that exchange of ideas seems to be getting less free with each new request. Sure, taken one by one, the requests often seem reasonable – things like the Tyson show tweets featuring things like "ain't no joke yo I'm serious people are gonna die just like in aurora," here referring to the tragic killings at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises, should be taken seriously – but it's the steadily growing numbers, and the blanket requests, that are causes for concern.

Thus, there are calls for more concrete protections, fewer weasel-words, less legalese and a more clear definition of what constitutes a "threat" or a "criminal threat" – lest everyone suddenly find themselves engaged in "disorderly conduct," or as Stephen King once put it, "suspicion of unknown hanky-panky," and having their Twitter feeds searched.

Protecting citizens from random lunatics who go so far as to advertise their imminent mayhem on Twitter is one thing, but there is a limit, and a limit that needs to be clearly defined so as not to cast too wide a net and ensnare those whose presence is merely inconvenient to the government.

Edited by Braden Becker

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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