Even the Paranoid Have Enemies: Social Media and Law Enforcement

In the previous post, You Say You Want a Revolution(ary) Social Network?, we examined why the Occupy movement wants their own network, which they announced via a manifesto entitled The Global Square: Towards an Online Platform for the Occupy Movement. In this post, we examine some reasons why Occupy feels they need to abandon existing social networks and build their own.

Social Media and Law EnforcementAttributionShare AlikeSome rights reserved by redtimmy

Ed Knutson, a web and mobile app developer who joined a team of activist-geeks redesigning social networking for the era of global protest, quoted in a Wired magazine article, said “I don’t want to say we’re making our own Facebook. But, we’re making our own Facebook. “We don’t want to trust Facebook with private messages among activists.”

There is good reason for dissident movements to mistrust commercial, mainstream social networks. Here are some examples:

  • Between September 2008 and October 2009, Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with customer GPS location information more than 8 million times
  • In December 2010, the U.S. district court in Alexandria, Virginia, granted an order asking Twitter to disclose information connected to four WikiLeaks-related accounts
  • Governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Iran, and others have shut down, restricted use, and mined social networks for information on dissidents
  • A Reuters review of the Westlaw legal database found that federal judges authorized at least two dozen warrants to search individuals’ Facebook accounts since 2008. Many requested a personal data such as messages, status updates, links to videos and photographs, calendars of future and past events, “Wall postings” and “rejected Friend requests.”
  • In 2010 Google complied with 94 percent of law enforcement requests for personal data, including search history. In six months, Google reported receiving 4,601 requests for data from the U.S. government. Google also reported an increase of 29 percent in the number of US requests in the first six months of 2011 compared to the previous reporting period.
  • Twitter released a subpoena they received from the Suffolk County Massachusetts District Attorney’s Office for information on user @P0isAn0N, a popular conspiracy blogger who calls himself Guido Fawkes.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted an Excel file of the various social networks’ privacy policies, which generally say they will cooperate with law enforcement without notifying users. Clearly, the Occupy movement has reason to worry that such tactics may be used against lawful activities they may indulge in.

But can such a network be built and survive in the long run? That’s the subject of the next post, How Can a Renegade Social Network Survive?