The Patriot Act and its sickly progeny have been used for all sorts of decidedly unpatriotic things in the past few weeks. The Government is, for example, seeking account information about Twitter users. It flashed a subpoena at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco ten days before Christmas: Turn over records but don't tell anyone we asked, the Government demanded. Only cowards and tyrants hide their tracks with threats. Twitter stood its ground, and the truth can be told: Uncle Sam is wetting himself because WikiLeaks has told the truth about what he does when he thinks no one is looking.
Odds are that every other Internet company engaged in social media have received similar subpoenas. Odds are that these companies have rolled over and turned over their files without a fight. Information is both power and profit, you see. The government wants all the power; it seeks to license those who can profit from distributing the remains. Fighting this power is important, even at the expense of profit.
Federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation of Julian Assange and others believed to have distributed secret government documents. The Government sought information about Assange; Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army private; Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic lawmaker and outspoken proponent of freedom of information; Rop Gonggrijp, A Dutch computer hacker; and, Jacob Appelbaum, a U.S. programmer now traveling in Europe and afraid to come home. The Government told Wikileaks to turn over account information about these folks and not to tell these folks they were being targeted for investigation.
"If the Iranian government was to attempt to coercively obtain this information from journalists and activists of foreign nations, human rights groups around the world would speak out," Assange argues. Of course, he is right.
Twitter fought back and won the legal right to publish the information about government secrecy. But what about Facebook, Google and all the other service providers by which we link and comment? How many of them received the order to turn over documents and then cowered in the tyrant's shadow? "Heaven knows how many places received similar subpoenas and just quietly submitted all they had," Gonggrijp said. Are others pressing these providers for answers? Thus far, Facebook and Google officials have refused even to answer questions about the topic.
There are few things more unctuous than a federal prosecutor strutting his stuff under cloak of secrecy. A prosecutor can subpoena records concerning you to a grand jury. He can send FBI agents to troll your neighborhood. All manner of information about you can be obtained by the Government and then twisted into any shape the Government thinks the data supports. All this can, and routinely does, occur in the form of federal investigations of white collar crime. By the time some folks realize there is a game on, it is far too late to salvage their reputation. The Government has hijacked a secret grand jury that you are a criminal. You don't have the right to appear to explain yourself. No lawyer can combat the prosecutorial spin. You do not even have the right to know a grand jury investigation was in place. Secrecy breeds contempt for a Government that protests too much about transparency.
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.