Ruling Allows US Authorities Unwarranted Access To Any Stored Data

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A court ruling ordering Twitter to hand over an Icelandic MP’s private data has broader repercussions

The WikiLeaks Icelandic saga contined with a US judge ruling that Twitter must hand over the tweets of three Icelandic citizens, including parliamentarian and former WikiLeaks affiliate Birgitta Jonsdottir.

More than this, the Virginia district court judge also ruled that other files, such as social network entries, that are held on US soil could also be accessed by the US authorities without notifying the people concerned.

No US-stored data is secure

The implications are likely to create a shockwave through the online social networking world and could have implications for UK companies that store their business data in US data centres. The precedent has been set for privacy agreements between cloud providers and SaaS to be overruled by law enforcement organisations.

Jonsdottir (pictured) said, “With this decision, the court is telling all users of online tools hosted in the US that the US government will have secret access to their data. People around the world will take note, and since they can easily move their data to companies who host it in locations that better protect their privacy than the US does, I expect that many will do so. I am very disappointed in today’s ruling because it is a huge backward step for the United States’ legacy of freedom of expression and the right to privacy.”

Jonsdottir and co-defendants Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp only found out that the US authorities had requested access to their accounts because Twitter notified them of the court order. In future, companies hosting data may be gagged and prevented from notifying their customers of such privacy breaches.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have represented the defendants in court, has urged other companies to follow Twitter’s lead and promise to inform users when their data is being sought by the government, as part of its Who Has Your Back? campaign.

“When you use the Internet, you entrust your online conversations, thoughts, experiences, locations, photos, and more to dozens of companies who host or transfer your data,” said EFF legal director Cindy Cohn. “In light of that technological reality, we are gravely worried by the court’s conclusion that records about you that are collected by Internet services like Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Google are fair game for warrantless searches by the government.”

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