Could Electronic Communication Cooperatives Protect Us?

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of parliament in Iceland, has written a column in which she complains that the US Department of Justice asked Twitter to turn over her private account information to the US government, without so much as seeking a warrant. She points out that any similar request for her hard copy land mail would have needed a court warrant.

So why doesn’t a request to Twitter to spy on us for the US government need any due process?

And why should we trust private US corporations with our private correspondence and information, when so many of them have proven cowardly in the face of a little DoJ pressure?

What I don’t understand is why someone could not create the equivalent of an email and social media cooperative, which would be like a credit union in the banking sector. Users would be co-owners instead of subscribers and the whole thing could be set up with a Terms of Service that clearly stated that all members have an expectation of privacy from the government in the absence of a court warrant.

Is this technically and legally feasible?

22 Responses

  1. riseup.net

    However, neither Twitter nor Sonic did this voluntarily as I understand it. Even though there was not a “warrant” in the traditional sense they both fought it in court and were ultimately required by the court to comply. I assume under PATRIOT act provisions.

    The US currently doesn’t have logging and data retention laws but the EU does and it’s probably a matter of time here.

  2. You are absolutely correct. I’ve been concerned about the centralized – and often dictatorial – ownership of most major social media, e.g., Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc, and trusting them with my information. It is feasible to set up a distributed social media cooperative and I am currently pursuing developing open-source software concepts and designs for the same with the intent of creating what you are proposing.

  3. Juan, we should all be using open source encrypted communications. Phil Zimmermann said as much many years ago. I still use a relatively small independent ISP, but my DSL is leased from a large Telco, and I wonder how much longer my ISP will be able to survive. So I like your idea, but where and how? Not much venter capitol for such investment these days… But then again the Occupy movement was a surprise.

    David Trimmell

  4. I just wonder why Ms Jonsdottir continued to use Twitter after she was notified that all information regarding her account had been subpoenaed?

    People know that Twitter and Facebook are American companies who will have to comply with demands by the US administration if these are upheld by an American court.

    • Because a social network’s primary value to a user increases with its size…..so using fb even knowing that it’s selling your data is the same kind of cost/benefit thinking people make all the time to try and optimize in situations in which they only have partial control.

  5. This is a completely uncontroversial conclusion to any lawyer with even a passing familiarity with 4th amendment jurisprudence. If a court were to find a reasonable expectation of privacy (REP) in an IP address, it won’t be a trial court bound by precedent. Prior federal decisions have made it crystal clear that there is no REP, and therefore no warrant required, to get subscriber information or an IP address from a service like Twitter. Accordingly, the government would have used a subpoena to get the information under the Stored Communications Act.

    Twitter may have “fought” it, but my guess that was likely public relations. Twitter is a corporation — they don’t “fight” for the alleged constitutional rights of their users. Twitter wants your money.

    • Back in the day of land lines, the police could use “pen registers” to log which telephone numbers were calling other telephone numbers. This did not require a warrant, as the content of the communication was not disclosed and the telephone numbers dialed pass through the telephone company’s billing systems (no reasonable expectation of privacy). (Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 99 S. Ct. 2577, 61 L. Ed. 2d 220 (1979))

      These days, the Roberts Court would probably rule that nobody has any reasonable expectation of privacy any more, so the 4th amendment is largely meaningless.

  6. It is feasible as you suggest to set up a community as a cooperative endeavor. Matter of fact for rural and remote communities it is a necessity. A lot of these communities are only connected by expensive satellite backhaul to the Internet or by terrestrial connection which periodically is disrupted. Consequently, it is preferable to have as much technology in the communities making it more self reliant. Also, many communities are becoming “intentional communities” not in the sense of a commune or religious kibbutz but from a sense of becomine self sustaining. They are creating community media centers to facilitate it,link to communitydevelopmentcooperative.wordpress.com.

    I refer to this as cloud dispersion technology or more appropriately community cooperacy. Cloud computing such as social media networking is great and is even better when there are personal clouds, family clouds, enterprise clouds, and community clouds.

    What Happen$ in the Community $tay$ in the Community!

  7. [What I don’t understand is why someone could not create the equivalent of an email and social media cooperative, which would be like a credit union in the banking sector.]

    That’s simple, this entity will be treated like Assange. All of a sudden it will turn out that its creator sexually harassed somebody.

  8. Yes and no.

    Freedom will always be illegal.

    Welcome, Pilgrim !

  9. Didn’t you know? The origin of the social internet was in an academic research cooperative; commercialization came later. There are still many cooperative elements–the most significant is perhaps still the e-mail network. But as to services like Twitter or Facebook, there is status.com, there is Diaspora. For people who feel a need for greater security, there are services like TOR (The Onion Ring) and the shadowy boards like 4chan. The old cypherpunks still have their secure technologies, though these have not been widely deployed.

    Such services, however, are also subject to subpoena. They are subject to penetration by government signals intelligence agencies like the NSA. The mobile networks, because of their great capital demands, are necessarily either corporations or government agencies.

    For more on this, see EFF.ORG and http://www.torproject.org.

  10. Since the advent of social media the various monetarist & neo-liberal economies around the world have been lurching from one crisis to another – I suspect that’s no accident.

    I’m not talking conspiracies. Before SocMed there was a lot of information that was inherently private because there was no easy way of distributing it, and a lot of that information was transient anyway – so by the time you got to the pub at 5pm what happened at 11am is history.

    Last week someone at S&P put a message on a blog or SocMed site that gave the impression that France’s credit rating had been down graded from AAA to AA. The original error was corrected within a few minutes, but by then tens maybe hundreds of thousands of twitter, facebook, rss messages had hit traders screens etc etc.

    A few months ago there was an event on the NYSE that caused some flash trading software to go beserk, the Dow Jones moved something like 500 points in seconds. Its possible that a SocMed message triggered that event – I don’t think they ever told us what really happened – or I probably missed seeing it.

    I know 2008 was the bad mortgages and I know the euro problems are due to imbalances between the EZ states, but SocMed plus the 24*7 MSM is creating instability.

  11. The problem may not be creating such a source, but keeping it legal.

    It is illegal to encrypt radio communications in the US. I understand in China, Russia and Iran and open source is illegal, the next hurtle would be keeping it legal in the US.

    There are many area’s of ‘civil rights’, invasion of privacy, wrongful search, American’s should be most concern about.

  12. It should be illegal to use a pseudonym as it can have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde effect similar to recent experience that I was subjected to during the course of municipal elections.

  13. I once used a local ISP that was bought out repeatedly until my ISP was basically General Electric. At that time ISP’s had started installing Carnivore monitoring systems (which were operated by the FBI or NSA).

    I’m all for internet co-ops, but the privacy/wiretapping issue is a separate huge issue that most folks are unaware of and ill-equipped to deal with. Safety from snooping requires both your own machine and whatever server farm you connect with to be secure (and free of internal monitoring systems), and the connection to be strongly and reliably encrypted.

    Our government has developed and implemented sophisticated network surveillance mechanisms. Before you grab your tinfoil hats, consider this is just what is commonly known:

    link to en.wikipedia.org
    link to en.wikipedia.org
    link to en.wikipedia.org
    link to wired.com
    link to en.wikipedia.org

    I have no doubt that the ultimate objective of all this is to combine and store all global cell phone locations, conversations, texts, email and internet use in a searchable database forever. Monitoring might be assisted by artificial intelligence. People might one day be profiled based on the the detailed actions of their grandparents. On the military side, the objective is a fully automated, unmanned fighting force (ex: Predator drones) which asks no questions and leaves no trace. The two combined could one day equal a nearly automatic global strike force.

  14. I have been working on a free web application that has many useful features for those interested in retaining authority over their digital data and fighting the centralization of power currently seen on the web.

    It is a content management system that has social network and link aggregation features, as well as an integrated news feed reader and database of feeds. When a user sees an interesting link from the feeds, they can save it with a single click, which backs up the content of the link, and then outputs the link to other sites via RSS.

    It is easy to install be quickly customized. Check it out!

    link to github.com

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