I am careful what I say on Twitter especially, and the internet in general.
The sad reality is that the internet is not the place for expressing views that you do not want the wider public — including law enforcement and intelligence agencies — to know you hold.
We already know that the National Security Agency will soon capture all communications — phone calls, search histories, web history, e-mails, passwords, etc — in their Utah data centre.
In Britain, a dangerous precedent is being set.
From the BBC:
A teenager arrested over a malicious tweet sent to Team GB diver Tom Daley has been issued with a warning.
Dorset Police said the 17-year-old boy was held at a guest house in the Weymouth area on suspicion of malicious communications and later bailed.
After coming fourth in the men’s synchronised 10m platform diving event on Monday, Daley, 18, from Plymouth received a message on Twitter.
It told him he had let down his father Rob, who died in 2011 from cancer.
Arrested and cautioned for expressing an opinion. Not for threatening violence. Not even for racial or sexual abuse — as happened in March when a student was convicted of incitement to racial hatred after he tweeted a series of racial slurs.
Just for expressing an opinion that the authorities found to be distasteful.
I admit, it was a distasteful comment. But the idea that the government should arrest the person who made it is far, far, far more distasteful still.
Meanwhile, the number of bankers arrested for rigging LIBOR remains at zero.
This is a very salient example of the problems with the internet in its present state. If the state has the opportunity to gather and index citizens’ thoughts, these cases in Britain — supposedly a free country — illustrate that it is a very short and slippery slope toward the state punishing citizens for expressing their opinions.
While the First Amendment might seem to protect speech, the United States has already got involved in policing expression. And the First Amendment has a massive loophole — it only restricts Congress’ ability to legislate against speech. Other agencies — like the TSA — would seem to be be able to restrict speech under “administrative” grounds (the same rationale they use to gut the Fourth Amendment and search travellers without probable cause).
From the BBC:
Holidaymakers have been warned to watch their words after two friends were refused entry to the US on security grounds after a tweet.
Before his trip, Leigh Van Bryan wrote that he was going to “destroy America”.
He insisted he was referring to simply having a good time — but was sent home.
Trade association Abta told the BBC that the case highlighted that holidaymakers should never do anything to raise “concern or suspicion in any way”.
The US Department for Homeland Security picked up Mr Bryan’s messages ahead of his holiday in Los Angeles.
The 26-year-old bar manager wrote a message to a friend on the micro-blogging service, saying: “Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America.”
US law enforcement represents the overwhelming majority of requests to Twitter for users’ private information.
Law enforcement agencies in the United States are behind the overwhelming majority of requests for Twitter users’ private information, the social media company revealed Monday in its first ever public report on the subject.
Of the 849 total government requests for user information during the period spanning January 1 to June 30 this year, 679 — or 80 percent — took place in the United States, typically for use in criminal investigations, Twitter said.
Japan was in second place after the United States with 98 requests filed by police, followed by 11 requests from law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom and the same number from agencies in Canada.
Speech on Twitter — and on the internet in general — isn’t free.
UPDATE: It would seem that the arrested party did later make some threats. Whether he was arrested for these or his initial messages remains to be seen — he was cautioned for “malicious communications” which means “causing anxiety or distress”, and so could easily apply to the first tweet — as opposed to intimidation or criminal threatening, which he was not cautioned for.