Free Speech? Twitter and Facebook Absent in Signing of Universal Free Speech Pact


By Jord Strohl

A code of conduct to protect online free speech and privacy in restrictive countries was signed by major technology companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. The involvement of these three power playing internet companies dates back to 2008, and they hoped that other companies would follow in their lead of a rallying moment for a core cause. Noticeably absent from the free speech pact are social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. All of the participating companies that signed the free speech pact are American companies; There is a void in the global initiative of advocating the protection of free speech. Although Facebook and Twitter are widely used by large audiences and activists in other countries in the Middle East and all over the world, they are not involved in this protection of free speech pact. Because free speech laws and the First Amendment only applies to the United States and are not global laws, there is a controversy on whether or not companies who have signed the free speech pact (Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft) have the adequate power and policies to even address the privacy and free speech issues. It is up to independent auditors to examine and interpret whether or not the companies adhere to government demands for user information and to decide whether they store users’ data in countries where free speech is protected. Susan Morgan, the executive director of the Global Network initiative, said that, “Recent events really show that the issues of freedom of expression and privacy are relevant to companies across the board in the technology sector, things really seem to be accelerating.” Facebook and Twitter have made a positive impact on freedom by highlighting the crucial role technology can play in the world’s most closed societies, which leaders of the initiative say makes their efforts even more important.

The code of conduct states that companies must try “to avoid or minimize the impact of government restrictions on freedom of expression” and protect user privacy when demands by government “compromise privacy in a manner inconsistent with internationally recognized laws and standards.” Although it sounds like companies must hold fast to these requirements, there is some wiggle room. Companies that abide by a country’s censorship requirements are able to remain in compliance with the code of conduct as long as they disclose it. The main idea of the free speech pact was to include as many internet companies as possible in order to create a greater influence and have more credibility. The companies who decided to refrain from signing the code of conduct have done so for reasons such as fearing the auditing process and not seeing any financial benefit from doing so.

A spokesman for Facebook, Andrew Noyes, did not comment directly on the topic of the free speech pact but says that, “As Facebook grows, we’ll continue to expand our outreach and participation, but it’s important to remember that our global operations are still small, with offices in only a handful of countries.” Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have had a huge affect on freedom of speech around the world, but the issues of privacy and free speech are still not black and white, especially when it comes to crossing country borders.

In order to be more influential, more companies will have to be added to the free speech pact. The initiative is modeled on previous voluntary efforts aimed at self-regulation and this one is no different as it came to life at a time when Internet companies were seeking to polish their image and potentially ward off legislation. The idea of the pact is to help companies do the right thing instead of having to play catch up after they mess up.

The Internet provides a forum for various outputs of information and communication services. In America, we take advantage of all the services that free speech can offer us. Despite what people assume, the internet is regulated and American citizens are not completely oblivious to the dangers that then internet creates. By signing the code of conduct, countries will be able to learn how to work collectively and to allow them to integrate and communicate freely with those outside of their countries. The key for this code of conduct to protect privacy and free speech is to get technological companies outside of the U.S. to sign it. If Facebook and Twitter were to sign the pact, the benefits of free speech would be easier to spread because of the audiences that the social networking sites attract.

– Jordan E. Strohl

Calvert, Mary F. 6 March 2011. The New York Times.

The Citizen Lab. 7 March 2011.

Sites Like Twitter Absent From Free Speech Pact

Kopytoff, Verne G. 15 March 2011. KOM105.

Image Source:

Wikileaks Twitter Case

By Valierie Rubinsky

On March 11, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled on the United States v. Appelbaum, upholding a previous order which instructed Twitter to turn in Twitter records related to the government’s investigation in the Wikileaks case.

On Dec. 14, 2010, as part of its ongoing investigation concerning Wikileaks, the U.S. government subpoenaed Twitter to hold over its records, not the content of the actual Tweets which was already public, concerning certain people involved in the case.

The order demanded the: (1) Subscriber names, user names, screen names, or other identities. (2) The mailing address, residential addresses, business addresses, email addresses and other contact information. (3) Connection records or records of session times and durations. (4) The length of service, start date and types of service utilized. (5) Telephone or instrument number of other subscriber number or identity, including any temporarily assigned network addresses. (6) Means and source of payment for such service, which would include credit card or bank account numbers, and billing records. (7) Non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by the accounts, such as the source and destination email address, and IP addresses.

In line with the Stored Communications Act of 1986, the court issued an order requiring Twitter to turn over the above information regarding the following individuals and accounts: Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Rop Gonggrijp, Birgitta Jondottir and Jacob Appelbaum. Appelbaum, Gonggrijp and Jonsdottir, moved to fight the order, which the courts upheld in March.

Law that has been discussed in the case is the Stored Communication Act of 1986, part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which explains that in handing information over to a third party, you’re relinquishing the reasonable right to privacy in most cases.

When Forbes’ Law and Technology Ben Kerschberg considered the case, he wrote that the district court considered four legal issues: (1) Did the petitioners have a legal standing under the Stored Communications Act to bring a motion to vacate? (2) Was the court’s original order properly issued? (3) Did the original order violate the petitioner’s First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights? (4) Should the order be vacated?

Kerschberg added that the principles at stake in technology-focused cases are extremely important and judges “are expounding upon them.” In this case, the court found that the subpoena may be challenged when a costumer of the third-party, in this case Twitter, if the person’s “contents of electric communications are requested.” The court reasoned that in this case, on the records were requested.