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US Twitter Spying May Have Broken EU Privacy Law 342

Posted by samzenpus
from the playing-nice-with-others dept.
Stoobalou writes "A group of European MPs will today push EU bosses to say if the US government breached European privacy laws by snooping on Twitter users with links to whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) will today pose an oral question to the European Commission, seeking clarification from the US on a subpoena demanding the micro-blogging site hand over users' account details."
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US Twitter Spying May Have Broken EU Privacy Law

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  • Where? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by icebike (68054) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @12:38AM (#34858192)

    Where is Twitter based?
    Where is the EU?

    Just Askin.....

    • Re:Where? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by devxo (1963088) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @12:46AM (#34858228)
      Such things don't seem to matter to US either..
    • by Suki I (1546431)

      Where is Twitter based? Where is the EU?

      Just Askin.....

      First thing I thought, but not as rhetorically ;) Now, if there is a treaty involved between the USA and the EU, that is a whole different kettle of worms.

      • Re:Where? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by icebike (68054) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @12:55AM (#34858272)

        Well, I don't want to leave the impression I support the subpoena. I don't, and I believe it is correct for Twitter to fight it.

        But be that as it may, if Twitter is a US company, based in the US, it is subject to US law. The EU can butt out.

        If the US objected because of French subpoena served against a French company, operating in France, can you imagine the uproar?

        • by Suki I (1546431)

          Well, I don't want to leave the impression I support the subpoena. I don't, and I believe it is correct for Twitter to fight it.

          But be that as it may, if Twitter is a US company, based in the US, it is subject to US law. The EU can butt out.

          If the US objected because of French subpoena served against a French company, operating in France, can you imagine the uproar?

          Now that you put it that way, I can see the burning cars and places of worship all across France in my mind right now. ;)

        • Re:Where? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by molnarcs (675885) <molnarcs AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday January 13, 2011 @01:22AM (#34858398) Homepage Journal

          Well, I don't want to leave the impression I support the subpoena. I don't, and I believe it is correct for Twitter to fight it.

          But be that as it may, if Twitter is a US company, based in the US, it is subject to US law. The EU can butt out.

          If the US objected because of French subpoena served against a French company, operating in France, can you imagine the uproar?

          Twitter is not operating in the US only, and it is reasonable to expect a foreign company that operates in your country to follow your country's laws. For example, let's say there's a US company that provides dancing underage boys as sex slaves for wealthy customers. Now that might be legal in the US, but I'm not sure they could operate in any country they choose to where slavery is illegal... just saying...

          • by icebike (68054)

            Have you looked into the terms of service of twitter where the user agrees to be governed by US laws?

            http://twitter.com/tos [twitter.com]

            • Re:Where? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Zironic (1112127) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @01:49AM (#34858506)

              Countries generally don't give a flying shit about such clauses. The law always overrides individual agreements.

            • Just because the user agrees to be governed by US laws during the course of their normal usage of Twitter does not mean Twitter, Inc. is not subject to the laws of the country in which the user is accessing their service, especially so if they happen to have subsidiaries or other business operations in those countries, e.g. a sales office to handle advertising.

            • If literally every piece of of the infrastructure resides in the US, then sure, the EU has no jurisdiction. But if they are operating servers or networking infrastructure in the EU, they are still subject to EU laws.

            • Re:Where? (Score:4, Insightful)

              by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @03:23AM (#34858866) Homepage Journal

              Have you looked into the terms of service of twitter where the user agrees to be governed by US laws?
              And do you know that all over the world ... except in the USA (and perhaps China and Iraq) ... an agreement like this is void?
              In civilized countries you can not "give up" rights granted to you by law when you sign a contract. In other words the law is above contracts.

              Again:
              Have you looked into the terms of service of twitter where the user agrees to be governed by US laws?
              Do you even know what this sentence means or is implying? It means that twitter is allowed to sue you in the US if you validate their terms of service. It also means you are allowed to sue twitter in the US if you feel mistreated by twitter. It does not mean that US law regarding privacy is applied to the contract relationship between twitter and its customers. In other words it does not mean that the US government is forced to obey US laws when spying on twitter users. And in contrary to what you implied to say: that is exactly what is happening here. In the US the US would need a warrant from a judge to "spy" on any US citizen. But for spying on a european they don't need a warrant? So Have you looked into the terms of service of twitter where the user agrees to be governed by US laws? is not to be honoured by the US themsleves?

              angel'o'sphere

        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          Totally agreed.

          This is the exact problem the Internet is facing: it's worldwide, and doesn't care much about borders. On the other hand our legal systems worldwide assume the existence of borders. And that's where the two clash.

          Twitter being a US company I would expect falls under US law. If all their servers are in the US only, it would be clear that they simply fall under US law, as it's a purely US based service. It's like the more traditional scenario of someone selling goods in a shop in the US. This

          • by iserlohn (49556)

            The EU can severely limit any "business" that Twitter conducts in the EU. That means, they will not be able to market their services, nor will they be able to derive income, in the EU until they sort out this mess.

            • by wvmarle (1070040)

              They don't seem to have any business in the EU:

              Does Twitter do any business in the EU in the first place? I don't think just having Twitter accounts held by EU citizens count.

              Do they advertise? I don't recall having ever seen a Twitter promotional.

              Do they have any direct sales of advertisements to EU based companies, the sales of which is fully settled within the EU? It seems an EU company have to buy this advertising in the US instead, as I can't find any EU address on their web site.

              From their web sit

    • by OverlordQ (264228)

      I dont know why this is marked as a troll (well I do), the EU has no problem with this when the shoe is on the other foot.

    • by Kitkoan (1719118)

      Please next time, read the article... it says it there.

      Its a US based company.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Twitter is based in San Francisco.

      I spat on their door once, it made me feel much better about the day.

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @12:43AM (#34858210) Journal

    Then what?

    • by t2t10 (1909766) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @12:58AM (#34858296)

      Then Europe will send over its vast and powerful army to the US, conquer it, and finally bring democracy to its... er... colonies.

      • If you don't obey our privacy laws, you American silly persons, we shall taunt you!

      • by mjwx (966435)

        Then Europe will send over its vast and powerful army of lawyers to the US, sue it, and finally bring sane laws to its... er... colonies.

        There, fixed that for you.

        OK, the last part is just wishful thinking but admit it yanks, you want it too.

      • by fadir (522518)

        It might be hard for the Americans to understand but conflicts can be solved without armies. It's very uncommon over there as it seems but even you will one day learn that marching into someone else's country is the very last option and not something you choose whenever a conflict arises (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan).

    • by Kitkoan (1719118)

      Then what?

      Thats what I was wondering. Its a foreign country requesting information from a foreign company (to the EU its a foreign company. Its a US based company). While it does involve some of their citizens, it has nothing to do with anything legally in the EU. The way I see it, legally it was like all the tweets they did were considered out of their country. Don't like that? Then use a system in your own country then it can be protected by your countries laws.

      • by houghi (78078)

        The "Then what" part might be one of the things that comes out of the questioning they intend to do.

        It could be that the answer will be "Nothing" or the answer could be that if this kind of data is used, Europe will not cooperate with any further investigations or that it will be blocked or ...

        Or even that it is absolutely not illegal and does not break any privacy laws and Europe can start doing the same thing.

        They are just going to ask a question, that does not mean that they will do anything. The worst I

    • by pablo_max (626328)

      Then perhaps Germany will stop selling arms to the US. You will have to figure out how to build your own main battle tank guns.

      • by brainboyz (114458)

        Because the US has a complete lack of people who enjoy building and playing with various armaments.

      • by hedwards (940851)
        I realize you're largely joking there, but that's a serious problem we're going to have in the future. Between the definite espionage that happens in China and the possibility that a foreign government will decide to cut us off, we're quite vulnerable to that sort of thing at the moment.
    • The European subsidiaries of twitter will be fined?

    • by Xest (935314) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @03:50AM (#34858966)

      Then Twitter can be fined, and if it doesn't pay up, banned from doing business in the EU, and any European assets seized.

      Not doing business in the EU would mean no advertising revenue from the EU, which, as an economy bigger than China and the US would massively devalue Twitter. Whilst none of this would stop European users using Twitter, it'd become near impossible to monetize those users.

      The US government may find itself no longer privileged enough in European eyes to enjoy access to banking data and so forth for "counter terrorism" purposes and other such privileged data access it enjoys too.

      It probably wouldn't ever reach this stage, but it's naive to think that simply because they're a US company, they have no interests in Europe that can't be squeezed if they breach European law. It's also likely if the EU did levy a fine, that Twitter would just pay it anyway, simply because the fine is still going to be less than the long term profits to be obtained from a continued European prescence.

      Besides, it's possible that the MEPs in question have no intention of seeing Twitter penalised anyway, more likely they're simply doing this to add pressure to the US government to drop it's request because like many people across the globe, including some in America, they simply believe that subpoena for communication records of a foreign MP just because that MP used an American firm is a step too far. I believe they're probably just sending a message that it's not acceptable, that's all- the US government undoubtedly knows how far the EU could take this if they so decided to.

  • So following someone on twitter is a violation of privacy law?

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Following may be a cover for “expert advice or assistance” and also point to "currency or monetary instruments or financial securities" efforts.
      ie a tweet and follower helps a designated group’s PR image, and thereby helps “legitimize” it.
  • by xnpu (963139) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @12:55AM (#34858276)

    Since when is an American government dealing with an American company bound by European rules? Nobody forced us Europeans to sign up for Twitter. I think we're all aware it's an American entity and that American law applies above all others in this situation.

    • by schwit1 (797399)

      If tweets originate in Europe then I would surmise that twitter must comply with European privacy laws, similar to email.

  • self-contradictory (Score:4, Insightful)

    by t2t10 (1909766) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @12:57AM (#34858286)

    Somebody doesn't understand how the US legal system works:

    The lack of an identified illegal act and of a judicial enquiry in the US casts a shadow on the whole process of lifting the protection of citizens' privacy for the sake of national security through such subpoena orders,"

    Subpoenas get issues by courts, so there is a "judicial enquiry" and judicial oversight. And there is a potentially illegal act, namely the release of classified information; the prosecutor had to convince the judge of that. The order was by a US court to a US company. Furthermore, the individuals targeted were informed and given an opportunity to object.

    In Europe, police would be able to get this information without any judicial oversight, without anybody being informed, and without anybody being able to object.

    The complaints by these MEP are unfounded and apparently just being made to score political points; beating up on America is a politically successful strategy in Europe.

    • by Sique (173459)

      The individuals targeted were informed and given an opportunity to object only after Twitter complained.
      The original subpoena was to be kept secret to everyone.

      • by furball (2853)

        The original subpoena was to be kept secret to everyone.

        Including Twitter?!

    • Wrong (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 13, 2011 @01:56AM (#34858546)
      "In Europe, police would be able to get this information without any judicial oversight, without anybody being informed, and without anybody being able to object."

      Wrong. Logs from ISP and company are also subject to the equivalent of subponea. Where the heck did you get this idea that the police could get whatever they want without judicial oversight ?
    • by martijnd (148684)

      It was a court order, not a subpoena..... according to Rob Gongrijp (one of the EU citizens targeted) :

      On December 14 of 2010, the US Department of Justice has had a court order issued to force Twitter to send them various bits of information regarding my Twitter account as well as of the twitter accounts of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Birgitta Jónsdóttir and Jacob Appelbaum. In my previous blog post, I have erroneously referred to this order as a subpoena, which...

      Original: http: [gonggri.jp]

    • by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @03:41AM (#34858930) Homepage Journal

      Thats complete bullshit:

      In Europe, police would be able to get this information without any judicial oversight, without anybody being informed, and without anybody being able to object.

      It is more or less the same like in the US. You have to convince a judge to give a search warrant. If he does not do so you can not search or "request to hand over" informations. And frankly ... judges here give warrants like this very very very rarely.

      Every case where a judge gives such a warrant and then nothing is found is a very server obstacle in his future carrier.

      angel'o'sphere

    • In Europe, police would be able to get this information without any judicial oversight, without anybody being informed, and without anybody being able to object.

      Bollocks.

      Europe is not a nation state, European Law is a collection of treaties at best and despite claims in Luxemburg, not all member states recognise its supremacy. National judicial systems vary greatly too. There is no single "police" either (Europol is an intelligence agency), so there would be no need for oversight.

      As for "beating up on America", thats going to get an MP here nowhere, given the current climate of massive tax increases and political corruption [reuters.com] scandal people are too busy with their ow

  • Spying??? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by InsaneGeek (175763) <slashdot@insaRASPnegeeks.com minus berry> on Thursday January 13, 2011 @01:00AM (#34858308) Homepage

    Maybe my dictionary is out of date, but I never have thought that a court ordered subpoena is a "spying" activity. If they broke in to twitter and trolled through data that would be spying.

    Looking at the website it's coming from... maybe I understand now why they think a subpoena is "spying". They say the Bradley Manning is currently being tortured by US jailers, and insinuate the subpoena is a front to cover the trail of supposedly confirmed NSA wiretaps 2x blocks from Twitter HQ. Sure sounds like level headed, unbiased facts abound there.

    http://www.thinq.co.uk/2011/1/8/us-wants-read-wikileakers-twitter-accounts/ [thinq.co.uk]

    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      It's actually pretty easy to spy via a "court subpoena". Setup a kangaroo court that will make whatever subpoena you want, and have it subpoena. Voila.

  • by denoir (960304) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @04:07AM (#34859034)
    On the face of it this may be silly as EU law obviously doesn't apply to US companies. That however would be misreading the whole thing. The EU is controlled by two entities the European Parliament and the Commission. The latter writes the laws and proposals and the former votes for or against them.

    Members of European Parliament (MEPs) are democratically elected. Their primary problem is that nobody in Europe cares what they do or what they say. The EU decisions are in practice always complex compromises. The UK may vote for privacy laws the Netherlands wants in exchange for increased fishing quotas and the Netherlands wants it because the Dutch government can use it as a political tool for some other purpose. In short political ideology does not exist in the EU. This is a big problem for MEPs as they can't get reelected unless they get enough publicity and look as if they are doing something the voters care about. The system works against them and so on occasion they make loud noises about any issue they think will be of interest to the voters. Given the complex nature of compromises in the EU they seldom have the opportunity to do this. In this case the opportunity they saw was in the word "twitter". They know that voters recognize it and have scrambled to make themselves look like they are doing something decisive in the public interest. It's not real, it's just collecting brownie points from the public and getting their name in the papers. So you can forget about it. It has nothing to do with EU privacy laws or the US or twitter - it's strictly a PR thing.

    The other branch of the EU executive and legislative power is the Commission. It has two functions. One is to act in the interest of the entity that controls it - the EU's civil service and the other is to provide a mechanism for national level politicians to get unpopular decisions through. The EU is run and controlled by the EU bureaucracy - it's civil servants. The Commissioners represent primarily the interest of their departments. The interest of the civil service is entirely self serving. They are for sending SWIFT data to the US as it will mean many fact finding trips to the US and other countries for the people in the departments. They are strongly for the introduction of checks and balances for sending the data as it creates more work for the civil service and ultimately increases their budget. The politicians on the national level have no problem with this as their use of the Commission is to get through unpopular legislation. When something popular is introduced it's always handled at the national level and the local politicians take credit for it. When it's something unpopular they simply say "we hate it too, but it's EU legislation, we can't do anything about it".

    That's how the system works and it's not easy for the MEPs as they are not civil servants, they are politicians and need publicity and votes while they are not really meant to have any significant political power. That's why there was such an outrage at the EP rejecting a gay bashing candidate for the post of the Commissioner for Justice a few years back. Things like that are not supposed to happen and as a rule they don't. So when you hear that the EP is making an inquiry or that MEPs are making noises about something, you can safely ignore it. It doesn't have to make sense as nothing will ever come of it - they are just trying to get themselves noticed in order to get reelected.
    • by Malc (1751)

      On the face of it this may be silly as EU law obviously doesn't apply to US companies

      Wrong. EU law applies to US companies conducting business in the EU. I can't see Twitter foregoing business in the 27 country EU as it is a market of over 500 million people.

  • by McTickles (1812316) on Thursday January 13, 2011 @05:27AM (#34859384)

    It actually applies to foreign companies for the storage of data pertaining to EU users.

    I actually worked on something relating a month ago and the rules are there and the law exists for any service based in any country to take extra care when storing EU citizen data.

    The result of this relating to the subpoena? The US simply cannot subpoena data relating to EU residents, only to US residents.

    And that is it gentlemen; of course if the US wants to further degrade their reputation with Europe they can always walk all over European regulations they agreed to respect when handling EU data.

    That won't be the first time the US just does what it wants and shits on everyone else, but it may be the last... Patience towards the US tantrums is running out in the EU...

    --
    www.twilightcampaign.net

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