On our great nation’s Independence Day, the battle over our rights to privacy rears its ugly head once again. On Monday, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. ruled that Twitter must give the court three months worth of Malcolm Harris, an Occupy Wall Street protester’s, user information and tweets. In response to this, Twitter released their first ever Transparency Report, which describes “government requests received for user information, government requests received to withhold content, and DMCA takedown notices received from copyright holders.”
The report highlights several things, but the most apparent is that the United States leads in requests for information, and accounts for roughly 80% of the requests that Twitter receives. Twitter complied with requests 75% of the time, as long as the requests followed their Guidelines for Law Enforcement. More importantly, this report brings to light how often the U.S. has been willing to put aside our privacy rights.
Twitter has played a large role in political movements like the Arab Springs, and perhaps the United States fears that Twitter will have the same effects on groups like Occupy Wall Street protesters. The October 1 Occupy march on the Brooklyn Bridge might have been a bit a bit more chaotic than officials would have liked, but it was nowhere near violent.
It is our nation’s “security” that gives the U.S. so much interest with users’ tweets, as apparently The Patriot Act doesn’t seem to be enough. Social media has opened the door to an easier way to identify users, view how they interact with others, and is conveniently logged chronologically for anyone with the right court order to view. Nothing you post on the Internet is ever entirely safe, especially not when you are a subject of interest.
Our right to privacy is not one that should be infringed so easily. The transparency report released by Twitter on July 2 is a reminder of the relevance of every action we take. Something as simple as 140 characters could become the turning point for cases like Malcolm Harris’s. In the case of national security risk, it is understandable for the government to delve into private information, but there must always be limits.