Twitter and your privacy

Twitter fights a court ruling to turn over a user's information.

So just how much privacy can you expect for your Twitter account? That's the question in an ongoing New York lawsuit involving an Occupy Wall Street activist named Malcolm Harris. He was charged with disorderly conduct. Prosecutors want access to his tweets. This week Twitter appealed a ruling that it had to hand them over. Orin Kerr is a law professor at George Washington University.

Orin Kerr: When people use Twitter, they send their communications to Twitter. And the ultimate question in this case is whether, when you send your stuff to Twitter, does it become Twitter's and anyone can look at it? Or is it still your private communication? Hill: And what did the judge decide? Kerr: The judge said that when you send a communication to Twitter to be broadcast to the world, you've given up your privacy rights in it. It's the public's. And the government can access it, just like anybody else could have accessed it when you published it. Hill: And why is Twitter appealing? Kerr: One reason probably is privacy is a big business. If you're Twitter, you want your users to strongly believe that you're going to go to bat for them. So Twitter has a strong incentive to try to protect the privacy rights of its customers.

Turns out it's more than just Harris's deleted tweets the prosecutors want. Susan Freiwald is a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law. She says, "They were asking for all information that Twitter held about Harris, which could have included any private messages he sent, and tweets that were sent out to a limited audience. The other important point here is that they would not only have the substance of the tweets, but also information that would allow them to find out where Harris was when he tweeted." So where do privacy rights begin and end with social networking sites like twitter? Freiwald says it's complicated and not all that well sorted out. "The general understanding is that information that is sent out to the general public, you don't have reasonable expectation of privacy in it. But there are a lot of grey areas. More and more of the things we put up on social networks are not sent to everyone, but sent to a limited group. There's of course a lot of information we send to just one other person. And a lot of the information being collected by the government is not publicly available information, but it's our location information, it's our stored emails, it's a whole bunch of other stuff." The law is lagging behind the technology, which means, Orin Kerr says: "I think everybody should just follow a rule of thumb, which is that if you want the world to know what's going on, if you want the world to listen to you, then Twitter is great. If you want keep something private, Twitter's probably not your best platform." ** The pro-football season is just around the corner.  And:

"Any Given Sunday" clip: On any given Sunday, tradition will be broken.

The tradition we're talking about breaking: paper playbooks. Some teams are turning them in for iPads. Which could make some sense: coaches can make changes fast, players can watch tape at the same time. But tablet football isn't foolproof. Yahoo Sports reports the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tried to make the change to tablets, but found the players didn't keep their iPads charged. Whoops. There's also the issue of web-surfing when players are supposed to be studying. According to NFL.com, some teams have put restrictions on the websites and apps players can visit. The Miami Dolphins, for one, will fine players $10,000 for downloading Angry Birds.

"Remember the Titans" clip: Why are you smiling? Football is fun. You think football is fun? Yes? No? It was fun. Not anymore though, is it? Is it? No. Not it's not fun anymore, not even a little bit? Zero fun sir. All right.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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