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Intro: "Few realise that foreign governments gain the right to our personal data when we sign up to social media. This must end."

Twitter bird on branch artwork, 06/15/09. (art: Twitter)
Twitter bird on branch artwork, 06/15/09. (art: Twitter)

The US Justice Department Hacked My Twitter Account

By Birgitta Jonsdottir, Guardian UK

13 November 11


Few realise that foreign governments gain the right to our personal data when we sign up to social media. This must end.

Birgitta Jonsdottir's Twitter account. (photo: Guardian UK)
Birgitta Jónsdóttir's Twitter account: A US court has ruled that Twitter must comply with a Department of Justice demand
to release private data held by the social media company
, which it seeks as part of its investigation into WikiLeaks.
(photo: Guardian UK)


efore my Twitter case, in which the US Department of Justice has demanded that the social media site hands over personal information about my account which it deems necessary to its investigation of WikiLeaks, I didn't think much about what rights I would be signing off when accepting user agreement in my computer. The text is usually lengthy, in a legal language that most people don't understand. Very few people read the user agreements, and very few understand their legal implications if someone in the real world would try to use one against them.

Many of us who use the internet - be it to write emails, work or browse its growing landscape: mining for information, connecting with others or using it to organise ourselves in various groups of the like-minded - are not aware of that our behavior online is being monitored. Profiling has become a default with companies such as Google and Facebook. These companies have huge databases recording our every move within their environment, in order to groom advertising to our interests. For them, we are only consumers to push goods at, in order to sell ads through an increasingly sophisticated business model. For them, we are not regarded as citizens with civic rights.

This notion needs to change. No one really knew where we were heading a few years ago: neither we the users, nor the companies harvesting our personal information for profit. Very few of us imagined that governments that claim to be democratic would invade our online privacy with no regard to the fundamental rights we are supposed to have in the real world. We might look to China and other stereotypical totalitarian states and expect them to violate the free flow of information and our digital privacy, but not - surely? - our very own democratically elected governments.

What I have learned about my lack of rights in the last few months is of concern for everyone who uses the internet and calls for actions to raise people's awareness about their legal rights and ways to improve legal guidelines about digital media, be it locally or globally. The problem - and the dilemma we are facing - is that there are no proper standards, no basic laws in place that deal with the fundamental question: are we to be treated as consumers or citizens online? There is no international charter that says we should have the same civic rights as we have in the offline world.

Our legal systems are slow compared to the speed of online development. With the social media explosion, many people have put into databases very sensitive information about themselves and others without knowing that they have no rights to defend themselves against attempts by governments to obtain that personal data - whether their own local authorities or, as in my case, a foreign government acting internationally. According to the ruling of the US federal judge in my Twitter case, we have fortified those rights of government agencies when we agreed to the terms and conditions set by the company hosting our data. Even if that information is not held on servers in the US, the company would only need to have an office in the US for authorities to be able to demand its release to them.

So, we have to rely on, for example, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter to look out for our interests. But it might not always be in their interests to look out for us.

The reason we make international treaties and declarations about human rights is because, somewhere along the line, we agreed that certain rights are sacred and universal. We need to make the same principles applicable to our human rights online, as they are offline. These two worlds have fused together, and there is no way to define them as separate anymore.

If is too easy for governments to access the information stored online, it is too easy for that access to be abused. If someone wanted to go through all my regular mail, they would have to obtain a search warrant in advance. No such thing happened in the Twitter case. I am, according to the US Justice Department, not under a criminal investigation, yet its officials demanded Twitter surrender my personal messages and IP numbers without my knowledge. It has never been so easy for Big Brother to pry on all our most sacred information without us ever even knowing. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+48 # barkingcarpet 2011-11-13 23:06
Humans are likely doomed at this point. We are mostly a bunch of jabbering monkeys, out for individual empire and profit, wantonly consuming nature, which supports our existence, and turning it all into landfill and wasteland.

There is always hope, and we need to put an end to the corrupt corporate and political mechanizations which are dictating policy.

We, the people, ARE the power, if we could just agree to be kind, and equitable.

Blah, blah, blah. Shame on all of us, and there is still awe, wonder and beauty, if we but look a little.
+10 # futhark 2011-11-14 06:05
I usually compare what humans are doing with the Earth as what bacteria and fungi do to a dog turd. Feast on the resources and reproduce at the maximum rate. Exploit every last smidgeon of doo-doo. Have no thought about tomorrow, because there will always be a big doggy in the sky to crap out another. Drink, be merry, and eat feces! OK, it's an ugly analogy, but it's they way our "policy makers" seem to think.
+48 # Michael_K 2011-11-13 23:20
As a member of parliament in a foreign nation, I imagine you could find some mechanism to severely punish Twitter for espionnage in your country?

When there is nothing to prevent a corporation from being punished for colluding with a government in violating your rights and ignoring due process, the Big Brother world of 1984 has arrived permanently.
+52 # old cynic 2011-11-13 23:43
anything on line is available for all to see. never, never put anything on line you are not willing to find in the headlines of The Guardian or the New York times.

There is no such thing as on line privacy.
+10 # Rita Walpole Ague 2011-11-14 08:32
Dear Birgitta J.: old cynic ain't being cunical - s/he's is a truthteller.

Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a journalist turned legal worker, for years an advocate for justice and peace, the disabled, etc. Google: Colorado Springs Independent, Jan. 21, 2919, "No Peace or Justice".

And, the "you may not be able to access this site" icons began flashing on my computer a little over a year ago, right after I'd posted a 'most liked' comment regarding election fraud on AlterNet's article "The Eight Worst Governors in the U.S.". Then came what the computer experts/repair people describe as constant 'break-ins', with my lack of ability to easily post, stay connected, keep my volume at zero, etc.

Combined with that, my phones act up in a way described by an A.T.& T. repair expert as "I've never seen anything like this before."

Tragic truth: we now live in an international police state, where "We're surveilled and spied upon, as their spin goes on and on.... Then they break the law with ease, torture if and when they please, Keep the mainstream press in line, Muzzle critics, lie just fine." From VOTERS LAMENT, written by me in Jan., 2006.

My new mantra? If the 'spooks' are doing break-ins without warrant on my computer and phone(s), which they very likely are, I hope I bore them to death.
+36 # Billy Bob 2011-11-13 23:50
If you honestly didn't know the U.S. government would use this readily available information against us. you've been living in a fantasy land with purple unicorns and lollipop daisies.

We could make them stop doing this if any liberals are ready to stand up and be counted - knowing full well you'll be branded "terrorist sympathizers".

Somewhere in hell, right now, j. edgar hoover is dancing his superior dance in drag.
+6 # grouchy 2011-11-14 00:48
I think it will always be the case that if there is a buck to be made on it, we can depend on someone exploiting the system to their advantage. We thus can bet on it! So corporations of a size and with the financial means, can always hire experts who know how to game a technology and gain the advantage to their own benefit--some geek will be there to help them if paid enough money. We can depend on that too.
+11 # William 2011-11-14 01:35
The best thing to do is do not put anything on Facebook or Twitter etc that you would not want your mama etc to see.
+24 # Firehawk70 2011-11-14 05:15
I have a good compromise. The Icelandic justice department should demand the release of personal emails and other online media, including cellphone records showing locations traveled over time, from all US congressmen and pore over them for evidence of...well, anything. I'm sure they'll find international as well as US laws broken and then they can turn over the evidence to international courts and the American people.
0 # walt 2011-11-14 07:09
So, to whom do the people go for support of their privacy? The government? Homeland Security? Congress? Doubtfully we will see any changes as they seem unable to cure even worse problems.
+12 # mwd870 2011-11-14 07:30
The Patiot Act must be repealed or never renewed. It is a blight on the world. Other countries must have a way to neutralize the effect on their citizens.

The concenpt of net neutrality seems to tie into this, and if the Senate decides to repeal it, they will prove themselves slaves to the moneyed interests.
+12 # John Locke 2011-11-14 07:58
there is a solution, STOP using social media...and repeal the patriot act which is where all this alleged power the government asserts comes from
+11 # truthquest 2011-11-14 08:41
A downside to reading the comments sometimes is while you get comfort in knowing you are not alone, you might come away thinking the numbers of like minded people are greater than they actually are. The fact is the overwhelming majority of people wake up each morning ready and willing to acquiesce and those in power know it.
+6 # KittatinyHawk 2011-11-14 10:19
When these blogs or whatever were started, we said that people's need to expose their daily life would make tapping into our lives by government, corporations so much easier because you are airing your lives, personal interests, numbers all out there for the world to see.
Within a year FB after promising privacy, the owner didnot have enough money so he decided to make all your pages open to whomever. Again warnings were given.
What did you think was going to happen?
You want freedom to tell us everything, show us every picture, share every event in your have asked the Paranoia Crowd to come and take it. I believe our doing this is really not fun for them, they get their kicks doing everything on the sneak as that is what they are.
We have exposed ourselves, just get your bank numbers and accounts off your computers. You have given welcome to all, and now you will pay for it.

Here too you are watched, most media forums are and those with free thinking styles always have been. Hello all you Paranoids, I am here, where are you.
By the way, your phones are tapped, your cells and they know what you watch on the tube and radio (some call it ratings). Good Morning.
I mean if Governments were not paranoid, their would be no FBI, CIA, Interpol,
+4 # reiverpacific 2011-11-14 11:11
Justice Department?
What Justice Department would that be prithee?
+5 # BradFromSalem 2011-11-14 11:18
I am not sure if I look at this whole online privacy issue inside out, backwards, naive, original, or just plain stupid. I do think that Brigitta's article does touch on something I hear very little about.

First off, there is absolutely no way that we can individually protect our personal data. What is happening is that somehow because the internet has the ability to change everything, the common thought is that we need an entire new set of laws to address it and any issues that arise.
What a load of crap. The internet does not change our right to privacy and our personal data (all of it!) is a personal item.

For the US Government to order that an organization that is holding your personal information to just hand it over is plainly unconstitutiona l. Since when does a private contract trump an individual's right?

This is a serious issue, and for any court to say that when you click 'yes' on an intentionally long and overly loaded with legalese EULA, then you have signed away your constitutional rights is illegal and is in fact unconstitutiona l.
0 # Torvus 2011-11-14 14:36
As a matter of interest, in those far-off days before the internet, could a government agency contact private companies and ask for the personal details of those companies' clients, without good reason??
+4 # Abigail 2011-11-14 13:00
It has been well known for a long time that twitter and Facebook opens one's life to all. It has been said that if these "social networks" had been around when George Bush was President, he would not have needed illegal wire-tapping. If you are stupid enough to put personal information out for all to read, you should not object when they read it.
0 # RicKelis 2011-11-14 14:43
Groups will have to use a dedicated type of Internet that is not subject to such misuse and abuse by authorities. Unfortunately, we have...oops, better not to say..they're watching.
0 # Magginkat 2011-11-15 17:04
The mighty own us and unless we figure a way to vote in the rules that we need we are doomed. Congress seems to be a kindergarten class with the republican temper tantrums and the cowardly Dems just watching. It would help if Obama grew some cajones and called everyone out on their treasonous actions against our country. We did not elect them to have them turn around and sign a pledge of allegiance to Grover Norquist and the greedy corporations. We elected those bums to represent We The People.
0 # Left Coast 2011-11-24 11:57
I am not on any social media for this purpose. Although I do have an account with Linked-in, I hardly ever use it. It was, as I was led to believe, a tool for networking for a job opportunity. I would like to think this is another notation to add to our list in the OWS movement: stop snooping into our personal lives.

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