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U.S. judge blocks Twitter's bid to reveal government surveillance requests (reuters.com)
400 points by antpls 49 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 183 comments

Can we just ponder for a moment that we are being asked to believe that anything Twitter does or does not do could pose an existential threat to the United States?

“National security” is a sham now and has been a sham every other time it has ever been used as a blanket override for human rights. Human rights to free expression are more important than any nation.

This is just government spies trying to cover their ass whilst they continue breaking the law. They've conveniently mixed it in with "but terrorism!" to ensure that they get to continue breaking the law.

Hypothetically, a terrorist group could use private DMs on Twitter to coordinate an attack. If the US captured a low-level terrorist that didn’t know all the details of a plan but knew that the remaining details had been sent to other Twitter users, it would be a legitimate national security request if the government asked Twitter for copies of a user’s private DMs.

The hypothetical situation above would be an invasion of someone’s privacy, and any smart terrorist group should be using a message service that is end-to-end encrypted (I’m not sure if Twitter DMs are), but let’s acknowledge that there is at least a plausible national security reason for the US government to request things from Twitter. These requests can be abused, but any social network that has a private messaging feature could be used to coordinate national security threats.

Edit for clarification: If the US government made one request to stop a terrorist plot that they had some specific knowledge of, that would be okay in my eyes. If the US government requested access to every Twitter user’s DMs to scan for possible threats, that’s not okay. It seems like Twitter is trying to disclose the number of requests so we can see for ourselves.

> If the US government made one request to stop a terrorist plot that they had some specific knowledge of, that would be okay in my eyes.

How can we tell that they just didn't straight up lie about whether the one request was to stop a terrorist plot, and not to gather intel on political foes or ex girlfriends? With no oversight and no one allowed to advocate for the rights of the individuals under surveillance, I am still not okay with one request to which they claim is stop a terrorist plot that they claim to have specific knowledge of, because there's no checks and balances to prevent them from simply lying.

We can't. GP counters "National security is a sham […]" by positing that an acceptable use case exists, not that we have been empowered to identify it.

A NSL doesn’t allow the government to ask for the contents of a DM. They would need a warrant for that, providing some checks and balances.

Right because the judicial branch is free of corruption and doesn’t just rubber stamp warrants.

These statements are both false.

You are wrong, go read the EFF FAQ:


NSL are only for "metadata" not user content. Govt can get a list of the calls you made, but not what your said. They can get IP addresses, but not the email body.

I don't support NSLs (4th amendment + unconstitutional gag order), but a lot of the opposition is based in hysterical ignorance. If you are going to get worked up about it, do yourself a favor and at least understand what they are.

Can the FBI obtain content—like e-mails or the content of phone calls—with an NSL?

Not legally. While each type of NSL allows the FBI to obtain a different type of information, that information is limited to records—such as “subscriber information and toll billing records information” from telephone companies.

Okay, but that's sort of irrelevant, because the metadata of the DMs is still invasive. General Michael Hayden famously said, "We kill people based on metadata."

I cannot envision any terrorist attack that poses an existential threat to the United States. Fighting terrorism is not a national security matter. Even the largest terrorist attack in the history of the world (not counting the atomic bombings of Japan, which were terroristic by definition but generally excluded from that classification as being carried out during a declared war by a with-a-return-address nation) was at least an order of magnitude off from posing a threat to the national security of the US.

"National security" is one of those thought-ending phrases that's thrown about to make people stop thinking critically about the matter. Terrorism is extremely bad, but it's not an existential risk, by its very definition.

> let’s acknowledge that there is at least a plausible national security reason for the US government to request things from Twitter

There is already a system that permits the government, investigating crimes, to compel information disclosure from a provider. It's called a search warrant, and requires a (very cursory, heh) review by a judge.

The government is asking not only for the power to skip that step (they've already taken that - that ship has sailed), but to prevent people from disclosing just how many times that's happened.

"National security" is not an umbrella term that means "bad things happening to USians", although I'm sure that the people using it in this instance as a cover story for widespread, illegal, extrajudicial espionage activity by the government would prefer that you think of it that way.

Remember: every legitimate NSL could have been a warrant. There's already a legal framework for how to investigate and prevent crimes, including mass murder. Additionally, anyone who's ever read a US federal warrant for anything involving sequences of bytes or information technology of any kind knows that the burden is already hilariously bad/low, and that they're very close to being rubber-stamp already. I personally have never seen a federal warrant (they're written under penalty of perjury) that didn't have naked factual errors in it, and I've only seen the ones that got approved/signed by a judge. There's a 100%, easily falsifiable, perjury rate in them in my experience. AFAIK none of the federal agents who have signed these sworn statements have ever faced any negative repercussions whatsoever for the falsehoods contained therein.

So, that hilariously low/token bar to a search warrant is what they're skipping in these cases. NSLs and related FISA warrants are extremely suspect. It makes sense that they would want to hide and obfuscate their use and existence. They're basically carte blanche for the government to inspect any communications they want - no justification required. The only reason they'd use them in place of a search warrant is because they are illegitimate.

This is absolutely not about terrorism, or threats. There's already a functioning-for-them (albeit broken in the legal checks-and-balances sense) system for that in the form of search and seizure warrants; they're trying to confuse you with the terrorism card.

This is a cover-up for an illegal power grab, nothing more.

Well put.

Furthermore the damage from terrorist attacks is primarily self-inflicted; the cost of political, economic, and military overreactions far exceeds loss of property and life. Truly, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

National security threats don’t have to be existential to be legitimate threats. Threats to American lives can be national security threats, even if they don’t threaten to kill 300 million people. ISIS could never threaten the existence of the USA, but they have killed several innocent people, and it should be the government’s responsibility to prevent attacks. The government should practice restraint with how they do this, but there are tons of scenarios where the government should take action before something rises to the level of an existential threat.

Someone walking into your home when you aren’t home and stealing your things isn’t an existential threat to you, but I’ll bet you at least lock your doors when you go out. The flu isn’t an existential threat to most people, but many people get a flu shot every year. Just like individuals take reasonable actions to protect themselves from non-existential threats, the US government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from non-existential threats as well.

Terrorism is generally a criminal matter, not a military matter. It gets its power from the overreaction of the target. It is the violent equivalent of trolling, and your attitude is what feeds it.

Weak points - like unreinforced flight deck doors - should and have been fixed. But you don't throw away a free and liberal society.

This statement is so ridiculous I don’t even know how to respond. Just thinking of the amount of my friends that died, apparently to a troll, so you can sit here and dispense ignorance.

FWIW, I'm Irish; I lived with Northern Ireland all throughout my youth. I was canvassed to fundraise for IRA when I was in college, and I knew people who knew people, in a way only teenagers are proud of.

There's a mechanic to terrorism. Young people are radicalized, older people are cynical profiteers and hardened sadists. The campaign serves as its own recruitment. The harder the enemy clamps down, the more unjust they appear to be, and the easier it is to recruit.

So wars are often the wrong approach. Wars are a suspension of civilized conduct and due process. Anything short of total war, extermination and genocide, can act as a recruitment for an opposition which has a unifying identity, if harnessed.

this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what a military is. if parent wants to claim it’s a criminal matter then who do we send to resolve the issue? local police? national police? do nothing? if military doesn’t respond then the actions continue and it becomes a national security issue. when another nations people attack another’s it’s a national security issue. this clearly places it in the hands of a countrys military. i applaud those of you wanting to push towards a zero conflict world but we’re not there yet and won’t be in our lifetimes. so for the time being show some respect for your country’s military and those dying for your country and stop calling this trolling. people die here, this is not some game on the internet.

Furthermore, ironically, terrorism may actually be existential threat to democracies precisely because it leads them to adopt human right violating measures under cover of national security.

What you are describing is much more properly labeled "crime". The idea that terrorism is so much worse, somehow, is exactly the same kind of argument that has lead the USA to having the highest rate of incarceration in the world. That is absolutely nothing to be proud of.

We need to be way clearer about what qualifies as national security. Because "Threatens American Lives" could include a million things like McDonald's, Cigarettes, Booze, Driving, etc.

Preventing the killing of "several" innocent people is certainly justification for temporarily violating the privacy of some others. If you're 9 for 10 successful vs unsuccessful invasive searches, that's completely defensible. And I'd grudgingly admit that even if you're just 1 for 10, I mean, it's the remainder of someone's entire life vs 9 people's privacy, you could probably still make the case to allow it.

However, it's only the human inability to grasp large numbers that would justify a 3 ("several") for 48 (US) or 330 (world) MILLION Twitter users success to failure rate. Or you use a farcical "infinite value" argument, which is basically equivalent to saying that privacy has zero value.

The law doesn't say existential though, it says grave and imminent. I would focus on 'imminent' in this case - the case has been going on for six years.

>I cannot envision any terrorist attack that poses an existential threat to the United States.

SARS-CoV-2 killed more US citizens than the most severe terrorist attack in US history.

"national security" could be at risk if, say, a terrorist intended to attack the Pentagon or the White House or any number of other federal buildings. But yes, I doubt anything that high-profile would be in twitter DMs (unless they did e2ee and only used twitter as transit) and I completely agree with your comment otherwise.


So your response to a well laid-out argument is "but there are people who disagree! Go find them!" followed by an attempt to discredit your parent commenter by claiming they can't possibly understand what they are talking about.

Not exactly convincing.

My argument that you missed, is that this is the poster's personal subjective opinion from the POV of someone who doesn't have skin in the game.

My "there are other people who disagree" happen to have skin in the game (US people on US soil who suffered the 9/11 attacks). Look up Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

If you're gonna say that US people's opinions are also subjective personal opinions, then I'd argue that their subjective opinion still has stronger claims that 9/11 is a national security issue, because they have concrete provable injuries. Compared to someone far away who doesn't have skin in the game and didn't lose anything.

Check your biases and conflict of interests, maybe.

p.s. Plenty others here have added well laid out arguments so I didn't want to just add more of the same.

No, not anymore.

9/11 was a self-correcting bug, it became completely irrelevant to security starting on 9/12

Literally before the day was over, it was no longer possible to hijack a plane and fly it into a building. The brave people on United Airlines Flight 93 likely prevented a much worse tragedy, simply because they were aware of what could happen.

> These aren't hijackings

Well, there you have what differentiates your examples from what I said.

If I'm following their logic correctly, you cannot justify looking at someone's Twitter DMs to stop a nuclear attack on a city

You can - with a targeted warrant. The part where it requires a sign-off from a judge is literally the moment where you justify looking at someone's Twitter DM.

(In rare (non-existing?) cases when warrant-based workflow is too slow, when you need access right fucking now, I think it would make sense to have self-issued warrants available as an option to federal officers, on the provision that self-issuing a warrant means you also lose your job by default, and have to apply in front of a court to ever be able to work in public services again; and abuse of that options are punished with jail time.)

It seems that a 24/7 set of federal judges with smartphones on them for quickly processing warrant applications is a better fix to “warrants are slow” than giving cops the power to simply skip them when they feel like it.

As it stands now, the majority of federal search warrants contain easily falsified perjury, and yet they are still approved by judges almost without exception and the feds that wrote them suffer no consequences whatsoever.

I’m not sure why they have an issue with the current system, outside of blatant abuse.

The point of a warrant is the independent audit. As long as that's enforced, it being at least partially in retrospect shouldn't be a problem; the issue being how you would give that teeth in a way that's both not absurdly disproportionate yet still sufficiently discouraging. In any case, you'd at a bare minimum want a one sided notification a priori.

I'd be more worried about whether judges really are independent and trying to critically reject warrants, rather than exactly when they do so. And another weakness in our current system: warrants are a pretty voluntary form of oversight. There are no reliable checks against warrant-less actions that should have required a warrant. Unless it's really egregious, police will not be held liable, defense attorneys may not be informed, and they may even be able to use the ill-gotten information for personal/legal gain, because finding a parallel construction once you know what you're looking for is obviously much, much easier.

So I'd say that the problems are more one of a too-weak audit, and the moment at which that happens is not critical, even if it is relevant.

Yo dude al-queda has certainly tried to get their hands on precursors for making a Nuke. You can thank Obama for making nuclear prolif hard but a single shipping container nuke in the wrong place going off will make 9/11 and coronavirus look like a walk in the park compared to the existential shitstorm of a Nuke on a populated city.

I thought a clear signal of something lacking E2E encryption is if a web browser can display messages without a client-only password. That is, if the company can render your messages in plaintext server-side, they can read them server-side and do anything with the plaintext.

Now I realize the client-side password could be saved and retrieved in the browser for ease of use, but I don't think that's going on.

The same could be said for mailing a letter. So why does all this not get treated as mail? Under the same laws and procedures?

Let's clarify Twitter request first: Twitter requested permission to reveal exact number of requests.

Companies are allowed to reveal gagged legal process in ranges of 1000, starting at 0, for six-month periods. Combined FISC and NSL requests can be revealed in ranges of 250.

This just shows that Twitter is fighting all the way, as I mentioned in my other comment.

Jack Dorsey recently said something about launching a decentralized social media system, this is probably the reason.

Unfortunately a site gets really big like twitter you just have to bow to the powers that be, or they'll make life hard for you.

I wonder, if at this point, Twitter should consider updating their policy to state that government officials are no longer allowed to use their platform and close their accounts.

Twitter has no interest in doing that. I would recommend people start asking their lawmakers for better rules around putting government messaging on public infrastructure rather than use of accounts on third-party commercial services.

We live in an age where open web standards can create software that looks and feels a lot like the existing closed/commercial platforms (ActivityPub/Mastodon et cetera).

The fact that Twitter refuses to enforce its TOS when the POTUS issues a call to armed insurrection against state governors is an existential threat to the United Ststes.

call your congress critters and tell them that they need to legislate the executive branch spinning up their own activitypub-compliant social implementations on government-funded infrastructure rather than continuing to relay messages through third-party commercial services.

What we’re being asked to believe is that the government doesn’t want you to see their backdoor search queries on Twitter’s database. That I do believe, regardless of whether there’s probable cause to think national threats among Twitter users exist. And hey, maybe it’s true... exposing government surveillance overreach probably is considered a threat by the people doing the surveillance, right?

OTOH, there probably are at least a few investigations into real cases of abusive or criminal activity. This may be getting used to watch what’s happening in other countries. There are a lot of possibilities for gray area questions that are neither clearly legal nor clearly illegal, and Uncle Sam knows that exposure could cause things to lean toward clearly illegal.

Let’s not pretend that privacy of Twitter messages is a human right, though. It’s a for-profit business that was already monitoring your traffic, and the government is asking for what Twitter already has access to. While the government may have a very different agenda, using Twitter doesn’t come with any privacy guarantees in the first place. Twitter’s not going to come arrest you, but they were never under a legal obligation to help protect you from the government or anyone else, and Twitter DMs are not private in a legal sense.

>They've conveniently mixed it in with "but terrorism!"

Alternatively they justify some actions with the war on drugs or fighting against pedophiles with: "think of the children".

If you promote strong encryption you might help drug dealers, pedophiles and terrorists.

There's also the preaching: "you shouldn't be worried of us spying if you have nothing to hide".

We need a name for this fallacy:

"We are empowered to stop terrorism." (or drugs, CP, etc)

"X can be used for terrorism."

"Therefore we are empowered to stop X."

Thus that agency gains power over all possible X. Like cash, any monetary transaction, photography, encryption, any messaging system whatsoever, or any number of other things that should make up the bedrock of a free society.

> Can we just ponder for a moment that we are being asked to believe that anything Twitter does or does not do could pose an existential threat to the United States?

Are we? The article just mentioned grave or imminent harm to national security, not an existential threat.

What is national security other than the continued existence of a nation? Any other sub-existential attacks can accurately be classified as "crime", which is a police matter, for which we already have a legal framework. They have to inflate it into something big and scary otherwise people would say "hey, wait a minute, that's not constitutional..."

Don't get it twisted: it's just a cover for domestic criminals inside the US government who have become accustomed to getting to break the law as much as they want for the last two decades. By making it seem special or important (it's not) they get support in suspending basic human rights such as publishing.

For the past 7 years Ukraine has suffered from poor national security even though there has been very little risk of its ceasing to exist as an independent nation.

Ditto Syria even though even if Assad's government had fallen, Syria would've almost certainly continued to exist as a nation.

You've failed to define national security, other than to describe the Ukraine as having a bad one.

Syria still exists as a nation, and if a significant amount of people in the US decided to stop being in the US for a good reason (say, the US becomes a murderous dictatorship), then they should have the right, same as any other citizen of any other country.

They can always pseudonymize and redact so that specifics are not revealed.

They have a point about a security risk but what they also sneak under that guise is their desire to hide intelligence capabilities and potential threats. It is not a risk if you don't have a specific threat or plan of attack,certainly not a risk to the nation. Vulnerabilty is not risk.

Revealing a request may thwart their investigation but the burden of proof that a specific threat that cannot be stopped if the information is public is required of them. Short of that, you can chit chat on the subway with a third cousin of a terrorist or something and they can say "if we can't monitor his DMs then we can't know if they are using code words to plan a terrorist attack"

On a different note, I think it is a failure if the US constitution to not clarify details like this. A constitutional convention to review and update the bill of rights and a few other things is long over due.

Yet an FBI agent can literally encourage the first ISIS attack in the US and it’s covered on 60 Minutes but no one bats an eye. We’re left just to assume this is the only time it’s happened. While the 3rd terrorist arrested months later assumed the FBI agent died in the attack — which is how involved he was.

What are you referring to

Anderson Cooper: After the trial, you discovered that the government knew a lot more about the Garland attack than they had let on?

Dan Maynard: That's right. Yeah. After the trial we found out that they had had an undercover agent who had been texting with Simpson, less than three weeks before the attack, to him "Tear up Texas." Which to me was an encouragement to Simpson.



Perhaps this could be justified but at least tip off the fellow agents and law enforcement there that there's two men with machine guns approaching. Instead, the FBI agent watched them exit their vehicle, then he fled the scene, was pulled over and almost shot due to how he was dressed. They put a mask over his head and he disappeared. Luckily no one died.

> Human rights to free expression are more important than any nation.

Well put.

Is the vague concept of national security that you raise the legal foundation for the actions the government is taking?

(of course the answer is no, it is not)

Sliding into Twitter DMs and baiting fools to say they are going to use fake explosives aren't particularly productive things for the government to be doing, but there's probably a reasonable legal foundation for most of it.

If you regard the United States as a bunch of interest groups sitting on piles of raw, human and human-processed resources...

we are being asked to believe that anything Twitter does or does not do could pose an existential threat to the United States?

Well, they can’t have it both ways. Twitter takes credit for the Arab Spring which was indeed an existential threat to several countries, at least their regimes, but still millions of ordinary citizens were impacted.

What's more disturbing and I simply can't get my head around is that Americans feel that they can trust big corporations more than their own government.

I don't trust US corporations at all and I thought that there was some kind of corporate conspiracy to discredit the US government to allow corporations to gain more power...

Now I'm thinking that the situation in the US is even worse than that; not only are corporations trying to discredit the government, but the government is working hard to discredit itself as well.

There aren't many/any instances of single corporations causing >10M deaths, or oppressing millions of people.

There are lots of recorded occasions of single governments doing this.

Governments are seen as having authorities that corporations do not, and thus are to be viewed much more skeptically as a general policy. Companies can't raid your house with machine guns, or toss you in jail for publishing an integer on your website.

It's not that corporations are trusted more; it's that the maximum possible damage by corporate evil is much, much, much, much less than the maximum possible damage by government evil. IBM participated in the holocaust, but they didn't directly cause it. That needed governmental authority. It's prudent to maintain several orders of magnitude higher suspicion and/or skepticism of government activities; corporations are basically sandboxed (e.g. no armies, for the most part) in this model.

"There aren't many/any instances of single corporations causing >10M deaths, or oppressing millions of people."

If we look at historical instances of single entities causing 10M+ deaths and oppressing millions of people, since corporations were invented, I think we will find that a corporation is driving the death and oppression more often than you might think. Jardine Matheson, Dole Pineapple, Dutch East India Trading, myriad tobacco corporations, British Petroleum, Shell Oil, for just a few famous examples are each definitely responsible for oppressing millions of people at least, and some of them are responsible for 10M+ deaths. Sure, governments generally claim a monopoly on violence, and in these cases it was a government that actually did the wet work, but they were doing the bidding of specific corporations.

> Sure, governments generally claim a monopoly on violence, and in these cases it was a government that actually did the wet work, but they were doing the bidding of specific corporations.

What about this inspires any form of faith towards governments? You've got an entity that controls/is the army and it is weak-willed enough that some company with money and a good story persuaded it to 'do the wet work' and kill or suppress millions of people.

What in this story makes you think that only corporations will direct that sort of power in a way you don't like? Are people with bad intentions only found on the boards of large corporations such as Dole Pineapple?

And even if they were why are you then defending the idea that the entity holding the knife, as it were, is the more credible and trustworthy of the two? Surely the government has some accountability for its actions?

"What in this story makes you think that only corporations will direct that sort of power in a way you don't like?"

I'm not sure how that comes from what I wrote? I was responding to the claim that corporations aren't responsible for deaths or oppression.

No, it's not "corporation" vs "government". I don't have easy answers to how to prevent this kind of behavior, and I don't trust easy answers, like "minimal government" or "strong government". Global trade and capitalism seems to be working for the most part, with some unsettling caveats.

I think the case of tobacco companies is equally damning to the free market as it is to governments. This is wholesale exploitation, profiting off the suffering and death of others. Nothing so far has stopped tobacco companies. The one thing that could stop it is expressly illegal: the art of vengeance. In effect, government betrays its citizens by protecting a regime of exploitation. It's not reasonable to completely trust either system.

“Smoking was the second leading risk factor for early death and disability worldwide in 2015. It has claimed more than 5 million lives every year since 1990.” [1]

“6 Mega Corporations Control Almost the Entire Global Cigarette Industry” [2]

25 years × 5M people / 6 corporations = 20.83M deaths per corporation (leaving out pre-1990 / post-2015 deaths).

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5439023/

[2] https://www.mic.com/articles/81365/6-mega-corporations-contr...

No corporation has the force of law to make me smoke. The government however does have the ability to invade my privacy and take away my liberty via the “War on Drugs”.

Does it count when EPA allows itself to be co-opted by corporations to repeal environmental regulations and air quality standards that were already in place? That seems like all parties are actually doing less than nothing.

There are severe negative externalities to my life when corporations are allowed to pollute. HN posters usually want the government to regulate technology. What major negative externalities that affect my health in an unavoidable way does the tech industry impose?

Are you asking me, or are you begging the question and implying that such negative externalities don’t exist in the tech industry? Because I believe that they do exist. Technology amplifies reach and impact of capital and ratchet up the force multiplier. It’s not so much that the tech industry itself has outsize externalities relative to other industries. Tech allows every and any industry to enhance its operations to minimize its externalities as much as increase them. However most industries tech and otherwise that enhance their externalities do so negatively in proportion to the benefit of having done so to their productivity or profits. And that isn’t the tech industry’s fault. It’s just a tool. The aims ends and intentions determine the blame and to whom it should be assigned.

Corporations are also fairly rational beasts when it comes to incentives - they want to capture wealth, or failing that they create more wealth then capture some of the it. They are a known quantity. It is somewhat possible to anticipate what they will do. They tend towards not discriminating irrationally.

Governments are comparatively hard to read. They are by and large not motivated by anything specific and are often possessed by destructive short-term zeitgeists (how many demographics haven't been targeted as a matter of government policy at some point?). It is difficult to anticipate where the hammer will fall next.

Over the short term the only thing making the government trustworthy is inertia. Over the medium and long term they are much less trustworthy than a corporation.

> Governments are comparatively hard to read.

Maybe in the moment, because the constraints they're fighting against are large and not easily understood except through hindsight, but history shows that adversarial governments are pretty rational as well. They seek to increase their dominance, natural resources, and manufacturing capability, amongst their peers, and over ever-larger numbers of people. Just like corporations, it's all self-serving turtles, all the way down.

> There aren't many/any instances of single corporations causing >10M deaths, or oppressing millions of people.

Sure. But that doesn't mean they dont have a say / influence in it. Take any social network for example, with a small change in their respective feed / discovery algorithm , it could clearly influence it.

> the maximum possible damage by corporate evil is much, much, much, much less than the maximum possible damage by government evil

In my opinion, it definitely is NOT that less. Sure governments can cause wars and all that but the corporations right now have a lot more control over the mind / general public view of things than the government.

Have you seen what Firestone has done to Liberia? Dude come on. The banana wars? Talk about not being charitable to history

They're responsible at least for the oppression of millions of people. 10 million deaths can't be directly attributed to them but they can be attributed maybe 1/10th of that. The issue is that there are a lot of corporations for which the case is pretty good that theyve left a lot of people to die and far more oppressed.

United Fruit Dutch East India Company

If we are going to use the Dutch East India company as an example of an unreliable corporation; what exactly is stopping the comparison being with the good old days of Communist China? Both of these are extreme examples of the worst of corporations and governments respectively.

Probably better to stick to currently existent companies and compare them to governments in the 21st century.

Corporate power comes, largely, through government power. Corporations coopt the government and use its power to protect or enrich themselves. Why would corporations want to weaken that?

I am much less worried about corporations corrupting government than the “moral majority.” Corporations have never lobbied to pass laws against interracial marriage - which was illegal in some states until the 60s. Nor did they try to make it felony for adults of the same sex to be in relationships. There were laws against “sodomy” in some states until the 80a.

I’m worried about both. The moral majority was invented from whole cloth by wealthy individuals usually affiliated with large companies. It’s a farce that benefits corporations and their owners and lends them political support for their economic actions that does not logically follow.

One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (Basic Books, 2015)




No, they just push for infinitely increasing military spending, which leads to needless wars resulting in millions of deaths.

Both are horrible, let's be real.

I dont know what kind of Americans you are running into but thats just not true -> https://www.people-press.org/2019/09/19/why-americans-dont-f...

Thanks for sharing, that was a very interesting read!

> What's more disturbing and I simply can't get my head around is that Americans feel that they can trust big corporations more than their own government.

Government and corporations are merging to become the same thing. I just assume any data I give to a corporation or government is public since they share your data anyway.

Which is prudent, but let's be clear: it doesn't make it right for them to do so.

Correct. I'm just saying it's naive to think that once your data is shared that it will only remain with the party initially shared with.

You can stop using Twitter, you can't stop using your government.

Can you? By all accounts, you can’t stop Facebook. They’ll keep using you.

What do you mean ? I am not using facebook, and facebook is not using me. All their domains resolve to

Because corporations don’t have the power to take away my property or liberty.

> Now I'm thinking that the situation in the US is even worse than that; not only are corporations trying to discredit the government, but the government is working hard to discredit itself as well.

Of course it is.

Powerful and motivated interests have long been working to overturn basically every social program and every protection for labor, discrimination, environment, voting, etc. The goal is to "starve the beast," privatize everything to work toward a government that only runs the military and police, and to make sure it stays that way once it gets there.

Insidiously, they can win support by pushing the government to be more wasteful, more corrupt, less effective, more intrusive, more bumbling, and more frustrating to work with. The moment of victory is when they convince you that government fundamentally is a bad idea that cannot work well, all those taxes you are paying are just going to be squandered, and we'd be better off getting rid of the whole thing.

They have been at work for decades through groups like the Heritage Foundation, CATO institute, etc., to push this into the mainstream. They reached new heights of legitimacy with FOX news & co., and have made great progress with the Trump presidency so far.

It's amazing how many times the Patriot Act has been renewed beyond expiration.

We learn from Snowden leaks that Twitter was the only major platform that refused to participate voluntarily with PRISM surveillance. Twitter only complied with legitimate FISA requests they were not able to refuse.

Microsoft,Yahoo, Google, AOL, Skype and Apple all did more than legally required.

No wonder they wanted to replace Dorsey

Dorsey is a terrible, part time CEO.

Only CEO in Silicon Valley with any sense of decency and a spine

Not true. Twitter declined to build tools, but didn't withold information more than others. And since Twitter has no internal security, NSA could simply help itself to Twitter data without consent, whereas they might need to compel a handover from other orgs.

Everyone else you mentioned runs a non trivial business that interacts with the government significantly. I know trump get's a lot of action on twitter but the next guy won't be using it for the main means of comms.

It's great that twitter took a stand, but if that company failed everyone would easily replace it. Twitter is toy.

> Twitter is toy.

Well I guess it depends on what your definition of "toy" is. I think all popular social media platforms deserve careful consideration. They have a colossal impact.

It's more interesting to consider what, exactly, government surveillance can be used for.

And really, "James Bond" style villainous plots aren't what we _really_ need to worry about. The real weapon in these platforms is disinformation campaigns-- and the actual actors behind such campaigns (as well as anyone else who is paying money to influence any user) should be revealed to the public.

What does that have to do with anything?

It's understandable because of Corporate law in the US that a public business wouldn't stand too firm against government overreach because it may impact future business, apple can do it because apple isn't a desktop provider to the government and doesn't have a market in danger in that space.

Apple was/is commercial partner in PRISM.

Does anyone know why judges are so deferential to the US security apparatus? It seems in general like they have a clear bias toward "taking the security system at its word", even when common sense would dictate otherwise in any particular case. It's sincerely puzzling to me why national security entities seem to get treated so differently and I wonder if there's some legal precedent or consideration I'm not aware of.

Like in this case, I fail to understand how releasing the number of requests would have any security bearing.

If what you mean is why do most of the judges tend to rule the same way in this area, it's due to precedent, they don't really have a choice. The balance (or lack of one) you note was mostly established by higher courts years ago.

No judge wants to be responsible for a future terrorist attack or degrading intelligence capabilities against other foreign adversaries, regardless of whether the threats are real, perceived, and/or imagined. In this case, releasing the numbers might shine light into their capacity for investigations. In other words, sometimes security/capability gains more from perception than reality.

That was my explanation for awhile, but at some point the logic of the security arguments started to seem patently flawed. Also, judges seem to be ok with all sorts of judgments against domestic (state and federal) entities. It's almost as if when national security is mentioned, everything is thrown out the window. It's like a magic codeword or something and I don't understand the legal basis for it.

You make a good point re: investigatory capacity, but it seems even that is fuzzy and could maybe be handled through other means (aggregating time periods or using some kind of required delay).

I think the issue is we’re trying to explain something irrational (a fear that something might happen) with logic. Judges make similar judgements in protective/restraining order cases. They would rather err on the side of caution, because as someone else mentioned, the downside to allowing the invocation of national security has a perceived minimal downside (minor inconvenience), vs. the downside of a terrorist attack taking place is much more catastrophic. Anyways, don’t think anyone is wrong here, just some theories.

I can’t imagine what “terrorist attack” would depend on knowing the exact number of requests, and fails if only a rounded number is known. Can you suggest any possible scenario?

It’s not about a specific attack or their being a direct connection between the number and an attack taking place. It is about concealment of the capability/capacity the Government has to counter those attacks. I could see releasing the number giving insight into the limited capability the government has to initiate, process, and follow-up on these types of Orders. Who knows, though.

I agree. Kind of like Pascal's Wager[1], but for terrorist attacks.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_wager

When the government pays your salary and controls your workload and picks whether you get promoted...

My first guess would be that they are following the law as written, as is their job.

And it's hard to challenge such law as unconstitutional because no right to privacy is explicitly written into the constitution.

Okay, you rule against the CIA and try sleeping well at night. Also, the judges that get these cases were undoubtedly picked (at some point of elevation in their career) for how "reasonable" they would be on these issues. You gotta remember that "national security" became a thing decades ago (Truman? Eisenhower?), so the system has gone through many several generations of selection pressure.

I guess you can level the blame at Truman. Eisenhower himself tried to warn us against going down this road, but the game had already been rigged against us.

I can accept many reasons for not revealing at the time, jeopardising a criminal investigation and that could cover national security investigations. So I can see how the judge has angled this.

What I can not understand or appreciate is that such requests can not be made public after said investigations are closed. Alas that approach is now also curtailed and would have to be raised as a separate avenue now. Which with this judgement, will now make that a little more harder to pursue. Been nice if the Judge had allowed that avenue of release, but that was not catered for in the scope of how this case was put forward.

Maybe if Twitter had approached with - what is a fair and reasonable amount of time until we can make such requests public? Or along those lines, then that avenue of release would of been within the judgment remit. Though I'm no lawyer, and may well that this approach they have taken is the best as it allows two bites of the cherry and an angle to appeal.

One just hopes the matter is not as clear cut and settled as it stands.

Twitter requested permission to reveal exact number of requests.

Companies are allowed to reveal gagged legal process in ranges of 1000, starting at 0, for six-month periods. Combined FISC and NSL requests can be revealed in ranges of 250.

Six years for summary judgment?!? Even if Twitter had won, it and the American public still would have lost through this endless delay. Something needs to be done about the glacial pace of federal litigation. Justice delayed is justice denied.

I wish there is a Twitter employee like Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning to leak those surveillance requests. Leaking documents seems to be the only way forward in the U.S.

Chelsea Manning, not Bradley

Wasn't it Bradley at the time of the leaks?

How is that relevant? Don't dead name people and in general don't be a dick.

The variable labeled 'Bradley' wasn't relabeled to 'Chelsea' until well after the leak. Changing a name doesn't propagate backwards in time.

Although you're certainly free to conform to whatever meaningless social convention you like. I assume it provides you a sense of belonging, moral righteousness, etc.. But, given the conformity you seem to demand, you might want to consider who here is most deserving of the "dick" moniker.

Please refer to the following article on how to respect transgender people and something fundamentally core to another person's existence:


Kind regards, member of the LGBTQ community and HN.

P.S. It's just about respect, nothing else.

> Changing a name doesn't propagate backwards in time.

> you're certainly free to conform to whatever meaningless social convention you like.

You don't see the irony here?

I'm not going to waste any time replying further but I'd simply point out that human empathy and care for others costs nothing here.

There is no irony. They are free to be as illogical as they like. I can't impose reason upon them as they clearly reject it.

Empathy is entirely extraneous to the discussion. If someone responds emotionally to an otherwise dispassionate discourse, that is their own concern.

If the employee was like Manning, they would just leak all of the DMs.

Would you leak it if you worked at twitter? Just curious

I sincerely would leak depending on its severity. Sometimes you need to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.

It's April now so that means this:


... is now 14 years old. This was the first warrant canary[1] and, I am sad to say, one of the few remaining ones.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warrant_canary#Usage

Could Twitter set up a warrant canary for every user? Append "/canary" to URLs and make it 404 if the data has been compromised.

Or better yet, code 451!

I'd be very surprised if the courts would follow the extremely narrow definition of "speech" required for this to work. Is there any legal precedent otherwise?

But couldn't they force Twitter to keep updating the canary as part of the gag order?

You can’t force someone _to_ say something. You can only require they not say specific things. That’s the process by which the canary works. You set up a default state by which you say “this data has not been compromised”.

Nobody can legally force you to say that in the event it has been compromised. At least not yet, and if we get there, I really do fear for us.

Yes, you are not allowed to take any action to circumvent the gag order. Changing the status of the canary included.

[From memory from some ancient HN thread]

The workaround is to make the canary automatically lapse frequently unless renewed. Precedent in the past regarding library books provides that you can't be compelled to do something by a gag order that qualifies as speech, and updating a canary daily with a statement like "As of {current_date} we know of no warrants that have been issued for {private_content}" probably qualifies. Have a static page, update the date value daily so long as it's true, stop updating it when it becomes false. Based on the library book precedent I think this would hold up.

I’m not clear on whether the judge ruled in the abstract, or if they know the details of who was being surveilled and why. I just about trust a judge to act as a third party check on power but only if they get total transparency in lieu of the public being able to see.

Seems like they definitely have every right to reveal these; I don't see how there is a constitutional basis for this unless they can demonstrate that Twitter would be enabling some imminent vital threat.

Judge blocks Apple's bid to reveal government surveillance using Covid-19 tracing program

I hope they appeal.

Didn't Reddit have some sort of a "red herring" that was raised if they had to comply with some FISA request?

"Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it" --Einstein

Just do it anyway, pull the curtain back Jack!

Isn't everything on twitter public in the first place? It's the least of any worries.

Just a reminder all kinds of "government" for any reason is reading all of your email any time they want without a warrant and it's perfectly legal. Just has to be 180 days old but I suspect that doesn't make a difference.

The law allowing it is 30 years old and why the Clintons had their own private email server in their basement in the first place. Congress was going to close the loophole but Jeff Sessions and Trump stopped it.

Yeah, I heard that to about emails, after so many days they consider it abandoned property. But seems some different courts debate over that...

Written back in the old days when everyone used POP for mail... Emails would download to your computer and be deleted from the server. Plus webmail back then had limited storage anyways, like 20MB while now you can get at least a gig or more depending on the provider. So the server was more just like a temporary holding space for your email, before it got downloaded to your computer where you'd store it longer term and be responsible to back it up, etc yourself.

Now with webmail and IMAP (where your same email account can be on both your phone and laptop). Super outdated now since we access email differently now with multiple modern devices, I doubt many people use POP email now.

A few thoughts:

1) There is no such thing as privacy anymore, at least with respect to anything electronic. I know this because I wanted to be the head of a large online community (I worked on a program which I hoped would become the next Facebook), and I studied everything I could about security/privacy that I could for many years.

2) It would be better, far better, if, when users signed up on Twitter (or any other online service for that matter) if there was a big screen which comes up, with big letters, and says "Everything you say could potentially be taken out of context, could potentially be used against you in Court, and/or could potentially be spun on the News Media or by other people in such a way so as to destroy your reputation, livelihood, and potentially your life." This would be honest, ethical, up-front. "Forewarned is forearmed", as they say...

3) When Jack Dorsey filed his articles of incorporation, for his company (which Venture Capitalists require, and for good reason, if they didn't, they wouldn't be able to sue if/when the founder skips town on them!), but when he did this, he made a legally binding CONTRACT with the Government. Oh sure, it may have been a State government, but let's remember the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution (the Constitution is also a CONTRACT, incidentally...). But once you do this, even though you might not be liable financially on a personal level for your company, you have basically set yourself up to be REGULATED, REGULATED, REGULATED, by the Government and its in-no-shortage-of-supply Lawyers... (Regulated is another fun word for "they're going to tell you what to do" <g>).

(Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing... historically that regulation created some major wins for society, case in point, the meat packing industry, many many years ago, when proper sanitary conditions were not followed, and there are many other examples of this).

But the thing is, this Judge is making his decision based on that CONTRACT (the contract is the tip of the iceberg, by the way, it basically makes the company accept ALL of the thousands of miles of statutory U.S. code, it's sort a lead-in to that).

So, based on what I know about U.S. Law -- the Judge is probably, probably not wrong, but remember, he's making his decision based on

a) The CONTRACT, aka "Articles Of Incorporation".

b) The miles and miles of State, Federal, Statutory Code and Agency Code (since federal agencies are quasi-law creating entities) that the said CONTRACT (a), forces the company to accept...

In other words:

c) Lawyers, not technologists, are running the show... <g>

And you wondered how "The Swamp" works... <g>

Hey, I think I remember some song lyrics (Depeche Mode, actually!):

"The handshake seals the contract

from the contract

There's no turning back


The holiday was fun packed

The contract still intact..."

-Depeche Mode, Grabbing Hands

> There is no such thing as privacy anymore, at least with respect to anything electronic.

There never was! I was there for Scott McNealy telling us, "You HAVE no privacy. Get over it." As the CEO of Sun, he knew exactly what the federal government was doing with all those computers they were buying: running Larry's database, and archiving absolutely any-and-everything they could. All Snowden did is show us how well the tools running on top of that infrastructure work, 25 years on.

Obligatory: And this is a branch of the same government that HN users want to “regulate tech”. Why would anyone want to give government more power?

Because normally a government does smart thing for its people. It hasn't done that in some time in the US.

So when was this utopian time that the US government did smart things for people? During the 60s with segregation? The War on Drugs?

If we're talking about surveillance then that's true for just about every country in the world.

Since when? Governments have a history of greed, corruption, and trampling on the rights of it's people for it's own gain. Ref: any history book on any country, ever

The problem is all large organizations strive for power. One can be more easily changed than the other, at least in democratic republics. Corporations are more like autocracies, their leadership can't be changed. One can say that corporations derive power from customers, but this is not necessarily so. As they grow larger, they can necessarily control user habits through psychological means. The government can too but it has a lesser incentive, as power is more distributed, again in a democratic republic. Money however is a much better fitness function than power, as it can be quantified, so it is unsurprising that corporations gain power.

Well, because the design of the US federal government with both the electoral college and two senators per state without taking the population into account. If you live in a more populous state, you have much less voting power than “Middle America”.

Not to mention gerrymandering and widespread voter suppression.

The only difference is that someone proposed an ideal when talking about government, but not for companies. Why not use the ideal free market here as well?

Free markets are sustained by governments free of bribery and corruption. Otherwise you get monopolies and oligopolies as in the Gilded Age and arguably now.

Where is the government that has a history free of bribery and corruption?

None, of course, that is true of any organization of incentive-driven autonomous agents, such as humans. However, governments are not explicitly designed to make money, whereas corporations are literally explicitly designed to make as much money as possible. Money equals power to some extent, so corporations cannot be as useful as governments if you're optimizing for the wellbeing of citizenry.

Governments are far from optimized for the well being of all it’s citizens. It’s optimized for the majority. Just like the “War on Drugs” turned into “treating it like a disease” when drugs started hitting “rural” America.

France passed a law to make the Burkini illegal - targeting Muslims. This isn’t just the US.

Of course, you can't please everyone. The distinction is, at least governments try to. Corporations do not, by design, as they are only incentivized to collect money and funnel it to the top X% of the company, not even the company as a whole which includes workers.

Corporations work by providing a product or service that customers believe to be worth more than the dollars and cents they're paying for it. It's inherently consensual. The only way a corporation begins to generate revenue is literally by attempting to please as many customers as possible.

Yes, but the problem is not when the corporation is small, but when it is large. With increased power, it can reach the levels of a nation-state in affecting people, and it is unchangeable as there is no mechanism, unlike voting, to change its behavior. You may say that the customer is always right and so will choose a different product, but this can only be done with a free market, which does not exist currently, and can only exist with strong governments free of monetary influence, as I said before. Sure, pockets of free market, competitive behavior exist, but for large corporations, they are near oligopolies, and people can't switch to another provider. See healthcare, colleges, ISPs, and so on.

Either way, one should be wary of large organizations, regardless of their type such as governmental or corporate.

the government trying to please the majority is fine if you’re not a religious or racial minority and if you are straight. The US was trying to “please” religious conservatives when they passed laws against miscegenation just like the French were when they tried to pass laws against the burkini.

Correct. They were the majority then (social attitudes were the majority then at least) and they aren't now. But the government changed along with those interests, because there was a mechanism for it to change, through voting. Again, a government can't please everyone.

I’m sure all of the minorities that had to wait a century living under Jim Crow and all of the gay couples and interracial couples who were being persecuted by the government should have taken solace in the fact that the “moral majority” were pleased....

I am not understanding your point. Yes, that's literally exactly what happened. I pass no moral value judgments as to whether or not the rule of majority is good. I am merely explaining it descriptively as what happens in democratic republican governments thus far. We can also have a dictatorship where no change happens as well.

Put another way, it doesn't matter whether they were pleased or not, the system is set up to make their interests more apparent than others.

What meaningful changes have people affected in democratic republics in the recent past? Companies that don't keep up with customers' desires go out of business all the time.

Every aspect of the social safety net in the developed world?

Political power shifts happen all the time in democratic republics as the populace gets fed up with the party/parties in power.

What social safety net? You mean like universal healthcare? Paid parental leave? Decent unemployment benefits?

8 hour work days, no child labor, Social Security, FDA. Look at anything that came out of the Great Depression and New Deal. Things would be a lot worse if governments ceded all power to corporations, which they basically did in the Gilded Age. To be clear, I also want what you wrote, healthcare, benefits, and parental leave, among others, but those only come about through strong governments.

Are you under the impression the USA is the only country in the “developed world”?

Well seeing that that the title of the submission is “US judge blocks Twitter’s bid..”, I think it’s fair to discuss the US government.....

Re-read the thread you’re commenting on.

Seeing that I started the “thread I am commenting on” and specifically asked is this the same government that should be regulating tech....

The whole thread, not just the first comment.

> "all large organizations", "democratic republics", "the developed world"

Someone else also pointed out (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22909123) that even the US has plenty of "safety net" policies, despite some glaring holes in it.

The same is true for unregulated business.

I agree! The biggest difference is that your interaction with any given businesses is not compulsory.

That’s now how monopolies work.

Standard Oil and US Steel weren’t easy to opt out of.

Which tech company are we obligated to use?

Twitter requires phone numbers.

I wonder if the millions of US Americans whose stimulus checks got "lost" are somehow correlated to people that have criticized Trump on twitter.

That's some next level paranoia.

>Twitter has argued it free speech rights are violated

That's rich coming from a company famous for censorship.

Maybe if we stopped voting with single issues in mind we could see that we have been funding terrorists with every new congressional budget bill for a long ass time, and the real way to stop terrorism is to defund our government sponsored terrorists who we know commit crimes every day, instead of worrying about terrorists we don't know about yet but need to find because our local terrorists tell us we need to. Just saying.

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