Twitter Beta-Tests a Spine

The government's investigation of WikiLeaks has set it on a collision course with the Internet services that the organization used to organize. While it's probable that other companies like Facebook received requests for user information, only Twitter successfully fought the gag order that the government had attempted to impose. There are several great takes on this topic, including this one about Twitter's general counsel, but the most interesting is Ryan Singel. He argued that Twitter's response should become the industry standard, saying the company "beta-tested a spine."

To Twitter's credit, the company didn't just open up its database, find the information the feds were seeking (such as the IP and e-mail addresses used by the targets) and quietly continue on with building new features. Instead the company successfully challenged the gag order in court, and then told the targets that their data was being requested, giving them time to try and quash the order themselves.

Twitter and other companies, notably Google, have a policy of notifying a user before responding to a subpoena, or a similar request for records. That gives the user a fair chance to go to court and try and quash the subpoena. That's a great policy. But it has one fatal flaw. If the records request comes with a gag order, the company can't notify anyone. And it's quite routine for law enforcement to staple a gag order to a records request. That's what makes Twitter's move so important. It briefly carried the torch for its users during that crucial period when, because of the gag order, its users couldn't carry it themselves.

The company's action in asking for the gag order to be overturned sets a new precedent that we can only hope that other companies begin to follow.

Read the full story at Threat Level at Wired.

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