I spy with my U.S. government eye: someone is tweeting you. Every day there seem to be more revelations of the U.S. government’s secret surveillance program by the NSA, tapping into user accounts, phone metadata and now social media networks of ordinary people.
In a rare instance of transparency, Twitter released its semiannual transparency report exposing a 40 percent rise in not only U.S. government requests, but also international governmental requests for users’ private information.
In the last six months, Twitter’s global network of micro blogging has received 1,157 data requests from the Obama administration, 87 from Japan and 26 from UK agencies. Although the majority of these requests come under court issued subpoenas, there are far more cases of U.S government surveillance as well as other international government surveillance that do not require any court subpoenas
The Twitter transparency report did not include secret information requests from the United States, which are authorized under the Patriot Act, a law enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In an effort to distance themselves from whistleblower and former security contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations alleging that Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are systematically sending user data to the National Security Agency, Twitter’s transparency report is showing the far-reaching and global world of user surveillance.
As for all U.S. companies, the Patriot Act prohibits Twitter from publishing or revealing U.S. government surveillance or other data requests made by other governments under the far-reaching security laws that the Patriot Act enacted. The U.S. constitution’s Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of privacy to the individual is no longer upheld where agencies believe there is a national security threat.
Twitter reported that the number of pen register / trap and trace (PRTT) through court orders has also risen. Pen register/trap and trace is commonly used to collect phone data, i.e., numbers called, time and duration of call. Now, thanks to the Patriot Act , these same surveillance techniques are used to collect data in emails. So the email header information and subject line, email address, your IP (Internet Protocol) address and the IP address of other computers on the Internet that you exchange information with are all data to be collected by governments.
In the case of Twitter, governments usually want the emails or IP addresses tied to a Twitter account.
The public outcry on the massive NSA surveillance has forced the White House to come clean on the lack of privacy Americans thought they had.
This week President Obama declassified documents relating to the NSA surveillance program on phone data before the Senate hearing. And according to the Guardian, President Obama is also inviting Republicans and Democrats to a meeting to discuss the latest revelation of surveillance of emails, online chats and browsing history.
The Guardian believes that the emergency meeting called Thursday will be attended by Democratic senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Dick Durbin, and the Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, all of whom have actively pursued legislative efforts to curb the out-of-control NSA surveillance program.
At the center of this emergency meeting is Edward Snowden’s assertion that the NSA is using a surveillance program, called XKeyscore, a far reaching system for developing intelligence from the Internet, examining emails and online chats.
Companies like Twitter and Google publishing transparency reports on government requests for user data will only add to the debate on whether the NSA surveillance is out of control.
Sensenbrenner, the Patriot Act’s chief author, voted in favor of a House bill last week that sought to effectively terminate the NSA’s mass collection of phone records. That shows that not all Washington advisers share the same views.
By Jo Erickson