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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Twitter’s lawsuit defends privacy

    “It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users concerns … We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.” Twitter dropped a bombshell on the tech world with those sentences.

    Twitter, summoning the courage to take the road less travelled, has filed suit in federal court against the U.S. government.

    Delivered in prose that seemed like a closing argument out of a “Suits” episode, Twitter’s case captured everyone’s attention immediately. Perhaps the legal line has finally been drawn in the three-year long war between privacy and the almighty federal government.

    With its case, Twitter is challenging the restrictions that prevent it from sharing specific information with its users about the number of and nature of government probes. The Big Five — Apple, Amazon, Google, Yahoo and Facebook — participated in negotiations with the federal government that resulted in an agreement that companies would be permitted to give broad answers to consumers. For example, Twitter is permitted to announce that it received between zero and 999 requests for information. But Twitter was not part of those negotiations and doesn’t feel its right to free speech should be restricted and bound by the terms of an agreement it never made.

    “It will be quite difficult for Twitter to win this one,” professor Derek Bambauer of the James E. Rogers College of Law said. “They not only have to make a tough argument against the Patriot Act but must also show that they have the capacity to bring an action on behalf of their users. One small path Twitter could take would be to argue that the government’s demands are unduly burdensome and require huge resources on the part of Twitter, but the best path would be to pressure Congress into making reforms.”

    The USA Patriot Act, passed in 2001, was meant to give the U.S. government certain powers to help fight terrorism.

    In an era when big technology is synonymous with surveillance, expressing oneself online has become something to be feared. These days, a fraternity-party selfie could be the reason one doesn’t land a future job. A wrong tweet can make a career crash. The pitfalls of modern social media are so varied that many have decided to have nothing to do with it at all.

    But the millions of people who are already hooked on social networks have not. With every message sent electronically, they are at the mercy of a spying government.

    As Bambauer implies, Congress should be interested in reconciling the Constitution and the powers granted to government under the Patriot Act. The all-powerful Section 215, which allows the government to collect information and perform searches without a warrant or showing probable cause, seems like a good place to begin the discussion.

    The Bill of Rights doesn’t come with qualifications. The First Amendment doesn’t end with “unless national security is endangered.” And that broad, no-loopholes and no-exceptions list of rights is what established America’s reputation as a land of liberty. We shouldn’t be layering laws on top of those constitutional provisions that completely undermine our basic values as a nation.

    Twitter is giving the judicial branch a chance to intervene. Maybe the lawsuit will spawn a new wave of pressure and litigation. Perhaps not.

    What happens next is actually in the hands of the people and their elected representatives. This problem isn’t going to be fixed by one powerful tech company and its lawyers. It will be fixed when American citizens begin to internalize the words of George Washington, that “Government is not reason … it is a force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”


    Chikezie Anachu is an international trade and business law student. Follow him on Twitter.

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