A federal judge ruled Thursday that Twitter must reveal information about three of its users who are currently under investigation for their links to WikiLeaks. The court order states that the company must give up the IP address of Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, encryption entrepreneur Rop Gongrjip and researcher Jacob Appelbaum.
The court decision can be seen as a further erosion of anonymity and loss of privacy online — as the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues it is. It can be seen as a judgment against the U.S. government — which did not obtain a warrant for the information. It can be seen as knock against Twitter — which kept records of the data for up to 18 months.
However, the case may have been lost over something far more mundane than any high-level debates on warrants, online privacy or data archives. The three Twitter users did not read Twitter’s terms of service closely enough, the judge ruled.
According to the court transcripts, posted by Wired, one of the Twitter users’ lawyer said the three WikiLeaks associates never read the whole terms of service — and who does?
He argued that just because they created accounts does not mean they agreed to it.
The argument did not sway the judge, and it may cause problems in more and more court cases, even though the lengthy legalese that fills the terms of service is something lawyers themselves admit to skipping over. In August, I spoke to Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University, who remarked: “No one reads them; no one knows why they’re there.” He was being only partially facetious.
Perhaps this court ruling means we should start.