Twitter earns plaudits for privacy amid NSA controversy

While President Obama and major tech firms deal with the fallout from the government’s secret surveillance of people’s phone records and Internet activities, one company has apparently come out of the controversy with a better reputation -- Twitter.

"Twitter, which has cultivated a reputation for aggressive defense of its users’ privacy, is still conspicuous by its absence from the list of 'private sector partners,'" Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras wrote in The Washington Post.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has highlighted Twitter as an exemplar of privacy protection in the past, giving the company six stars for protecting users' privacy in a report titled "Who Has Your Back?" And the Online Trust Alliance just gave Twitter its top score for commitment to privacy and security.

"No one wants a pen that’s going to rat them out. We all want pens that can be used to write anything, and that will stand up for who we are," the social networking company's general counsel, Alex Macgillivray, told the New York Times last fall.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Macgillivray has been tweeting a bit about the NSA:

And the company's chief technology officer highlighted Macgillivray's interview with the Times:

Of course, unlike Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and Google, Twitter does not have vast reams of private data on its users. Much of the information shared with Twitter is already public. Twitter does comply with some government requests for users' information, but the company says it notifies "affected users of requests for their account information unless we’re prohibited by law" and is relatively transparent about the process.

Several of the companies that a top-secret document listed as being involved in PRISM have said they have no knowledge of the program.

"We're still sorting through what PRISM means. We would encourage companies that issue transparency reports to clarify whether NSA requests are or are not included," said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the EFF.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

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