Google and Wikileaks: The Laybrinth Which Leads to Tyranny

The New York Times reports today that The US Department of Justice has issued a subpoena for the Twitter account activity of various WikiLeaks staff and supporters, including its founder, Julian Assange:

“The quest to get the information from five prominent figures at the group was revealed Saturday when Birgitta Jonsdottir, a former WikiLeaks activist who is also a member of Iceland’s parliament, received a notification of the subpoena from Twitter, a social Web site that allows users to post short messages. The United States government, she said in a subsequent message, “wants to know about all my tweets and more since November 1st 2009.” The subpoena, obtained by the Web site, was issued by the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia on Dec. 14 and asks for the complete account information of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the United States Army intelligence specialist awaiting a military court martial under suspicion of leaking materials to WikiLeaks, as well as Ms. Jonsdottir, Mr. Assange and two computer programmers, Rop Gongrijp and Jacob Appelbaum.”

The Wikileaks mirror site ( has posted a copy of the Sealed Court Order to Twitter, requesting to hand over records of Wikileaks volunteers to US DOJ, 14 Dec 2010.

Norm Pattis writes about this latest affront to individual liberty in a thoughtful post entitled: Secrecy, Terror and a Cowardly Government:

“Twitter is to be applauded for fighting back. Wikileaks and the Internet represent a coalescence of technology and personality akin to the printing press and Martin Luther. Just as the Catholic Church fought the spread of information in the Reformation, so, too, today those claiming a monopoly on the truth are fighting back. Most of the sheep will shuffle into the pens the Government has constructed. A few courageous souls will fight back, staring the wolf in the eye.

The Government is not supposed to be an occult entity. It is a creation of the people. It serves the people’s purpose. Self-serving Government rules that seek to hide the truth from the people ought to be aggressively challenged in every forum. Of course, the Government’s agents will fight that: they get power and prestige of a pathetic sort hiding behind the tyrant’s hem. They fear the simple truth that Jesus once uttered: the truth will set you free.”

I don’t know if Twitter’s corporate privacy policy resembles the canonical eloquence of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (Latin: Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum), but Norm has a point.

Under Twitter’s Terms of Service, there is an interesting link to Twitter’s “Guidelines for Law Enforcement” which reads in part:

Private information requires a subpoena or court order

In accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, non-public information about Twitter users is not released unless we have received a subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process document. Some information we store is automatically collected, while other information is provided at the user’s discretion.  Though we do store this information, it may not be accurate if the user has created a fake or anonymous profile. Twitter doesn’t require email verification or identity authentication.

Data retention information

Twitter retains different types of information for different time periods. Given Twitter’s real-time nature, some information may only be stored for a very brief period of time.

Preservation requests must be signed, include a valid return email address, and sent on law enforcement letterhead. Requests may be sent via the methods described below.

Will Twitter Notify Users of Requests for Account Information?

Twitter’s policy is to notify users of requests for their information prior to disclosure unless we are prohibited from doing so by statute or court order.”

One can only speculate as to Google’s reticence  on whether it received a similar subpoena from the US DOJ.  A generically terse “no comment” would be good for public relations, no?  How about a pithy quote from Google’s own Privacy FAQ’s? Here’s the only reference I could find “Googling” Google itself:

“Google complies with valid legal process. It is Google’s policy to notify users before turning over their data whenever possible and legally permissible.”

The reality is that Google does not have a compliance guide for law enforcement. As Ben Smith at writes,

“ When I wrote an article about the Yahoo compliance guide for law enforcement, I had no idea it would get the response that it did.  One of the more interesting side effects is that the article shows up in searches for the Google compliance guide for law enforcement.  This is interesting because there apparently is no Google equivalent to this document at Yahoo!  This means that many of those people looking for such a document actually find and visit my Yahoo article.  I don’t care too much about the increased site traffic.  The really interesting side effect is that the tracking software we developed shows some pretty cool behavior when law enforcement starts snooping around!”

Fortunately, law enforcement has the able assistance of Search-the online resource for justice and public safety decision makers:

“This site and ISP list is for law enforcement use and contains a variety of ISPs and similar information services, specifically, contacts at the legal departments for law enforcement service of subpoena, court orders, and search warrants.”

Our good friends at Search include the following info for Google search warrant and subpoena requests:

Google, Inc.

Contact Name:

Google Legal Investigations Support

Online Service Address:

1600 Amphitheatre ParkwayMountain View, CA  94043

Phone Number:


Fax Number:


E-mail Address:


Custodian of Records Fax: 650-249-3429Online Service – Google: Search, GMail, Talk, YouTube, Blogger, AdWords, AdSense, Checkout, Orkut, Picasa, Sites, Groups, Docs, Maps, Earth, Video, Android and other Google Services.YouTube LE Contact:For International Law Enforcement Only:The information you have requested is collected and maintained by Google Inc., a US company. As such, we ask that your request be directed to Google Inc. and through the proper legal channel. You may direct further communications to Google Inc. at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, California, 94043, US, Phone: 650-253-3425, Fax: 650-469-0622, or by email at is Google’s policy to require formal legal process in accordance with U.S. law for disclosure of information related to any of our users. That said, we also cooperate with law enforcement investigations in other countries where valid legal process for disclosure of information is provided and such disclosure can be made in compliance with U.S. laws. Towards that end, for basic subscriber information (registration page and recent IP logs) we may accept an Order or Warrant signed by a judge or magistrate in your jurisdiction, or other valid and authenticated legal process. Please forward such process addressed to Google Inc. at the address and/or facsimile number provided above for evaluation. Content requests issued from a non-US government, we understand that such requests should be made in accordance with the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) or the letters rogatory process. We are not able to provide you with the specific requirements in your jurisdiction, but encourage you to contact counsel for guidance in this process.

Last Updated:

October, 2009

Transparency and Choice”, so reads Google’s Privacy Policy. Ironic that Google’s motto uses the word “transparency” but has nothing to say about its position on Wikileaks in this context.

Transparency and Choice. I choose Opaque. Google’s terms of service are more difficult to navigate than the Cretan Labryinth, and the dead-end links would make Daedalus and his son Icarus blush and the Minotaur chill on the couch.

The consolation prize is the “Google Transparency Report” and this scintillating Youtube video: Google Search Privacy: Plain and Simple




Maybe Google should read Luther’s 95 Theses, or at least Thesis #28:

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

A final thought:

Privacy, Liberty, Freedom, Tyranny are all seven-letter words, but the loss of the first three inexorably leads to the fourth.

6 Responses to “Google and Wikileaks: The Laybrinth Which Leads to Tyranny”

  1. Tweets that mention Google and Wikileaks: The Laybrinth Which Leads to Tyranny « The Trial Warrior Blog -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by George Wallace and Antonin I. Pribetic. Antonin I. Pribetic said: Google and Some Other Seven-Letter Words: […]

  2. Conan776 Says:

    The politics are complicated enough without bringing religion into it. But as long as you opened the door….

    As a Catholic, I’ve naturally pondered the distinction between the necessary suppression of dangerous ideas (e.g. heresy) versus the suppression of general information, which as a democratic progressive I abhor. Mr. Pattis carelessly elides over the distinction in his recounting of the Reformation.

    As such, I’ve wondered: is it simply a matter of perspective? If you yell fire in a crowded theater, and there is a fire, then you are conveying information. Yet, if there isn’t one, then you are putting the idea of a fire into the minds of the theater patrons and creating a needless panic.

    I confess I haven’t quite sorted out the matter.

    Whatever you might think of the Church’s almost half-hearted attempts to suppress Luther’s teachings, I can’t think that it helps Assange one bit to be compared to Martin Luther. But get back to me should Julian, say, [link deleted] Now that would be a dangerous idea!

    (But, still, one German with a nutty idea: what’s the worst that could happen?)

  3. Conan776 Says:

    Hmmm, so “link deleted”? How about that! So, who is it that is suppressing Martin Luther’s teachings now? I wholeheartedly approve, of course, but you do realize that you’ve proven my point!

  4. Antonin I. Pribetic Says:

    Thanks for your comment. The Lutherian analogy is less important than the juxtaposition of transparency and authoritarianism. I won’t belabour you with my rationalist views, but will say that I hold the same opinion about the institutionalization of religion and government.

    P.S. Sorry, but I don’t allow links in comments, so your final point may have been lost. Also, I prefer to avoid religious commentary that may tend to be misinterpreted by my readership.

  5. Antonin I. Pribetic Says:

    If your point is that Martin Luther was an anti-semite, then you’re preaching to the choir; albeit using a false analogy: However, that was neither Norm Pattis’s point, nor mine. The post was about monopolization of truth, not religious dogma.

  6. Conan776 Says:

    Fair enough, on all points. Although I’m hesitant to draw such a bright-line distinction regarding what you dismiss as mere dogma: as Pontius Pilate sarcastically said “What is Truth?”

    But let’s forget the zeroth thru 16th centuries, and just hark back to the War in the Pacific. I agree that, in general, the monopolization of the truth is a bad thing. But this principle can never be an absolute. Loose lips sink ships.

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