How private are our communications in the digital age? From Twitter to Facebook, email, and searches on search engines, our private communications are being opened up.
While this should not be a surprise, somehow Twitter users were outraged in March 2011 when in US federal court in Alexandria, Virginia made tweets available to a government prosecutor:
A U.S. magistrate judge ruled the government may collect Twitter users’ private records in its investigation of whistle-blower Web site WikiLeaks.
Prosecutors trying to build a case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are seeking Twitter messages sent by supposed WikiLeaks supporters, and possibly message information from Facebook, Skype and Google.
ACLU attorney Aden Fine said Friday’s ruling “gives the government the ability to secretly amass private information related to individuals’ Internet communications.”
“If this ruling stands, our client may be prevented from challenging the government’s requests to other companies because she might never know if and how many other companies have been ordered to turn over information about her.”
A “private communication” is a communication which is made under circumstances in which a reasonable expectation of privacy exists. For these purposes, a reasonable expectation of privacy may exist for a communication being transmitted by a communication service provider, or temporarily stored incident to that transmission, despite the fact that it is transmitted to more than one recipient, and despite the lawful access of the provider to the contents of that communication.
Some exceptions to requiring a judicial order to gather these private communications are made when “a law enforcement officer reasonably believes that an emergency situation exists which involves substantial and imminent danger to human life, the officer should be permitted to conduct electronic surveillance without a prior judicial order.”