The wrath of a government scorned seems to show no signs of abating as the US launches what is tantamount to a witch-hunt in the ongoing WikiLeaks saga. Reports emanating from the NY Times, BBC and CNN claim the US government has even subpoenaed Twitter in a bid to support an ongoing criminal investigation into whether WikiLeaks and people involved or connected to WikiLeaks, including an Icelandic member of parliament, broke the law.
The order asks specifically for names of those attached to selected accounts, user and screen names, and any registered mailing or postal addresses. It also asks for email addresses, credit card details where possible, and even content relating to connected mobile phones. Which all means that CSPs are going to be hounded to disclose private customer data on an issue that is yet to be even deemed criminal.
It is believed that Facebook and Google have also been approached to disclose information on key suspects associated with WikiLeaks, even those not living in the USA. It appears the US government has sweeping powers to request the data because the key social networking companies are US headquartered despite the fact that many of their customers reside outside the USA and that data is often stored in off-shore data centers.
This basically means that any personal data you thought was safe and sound with your service provider could be accessed by a government whose own lack of security led to the release of 250,000 sensitive diplomatic cables that made WikiLeaks famous in the first place. What was deemed as refreshing reading by almost everybody outside the USA, about what the USA really thought about their own diplomats, has done little more than cause embarrassment. Yet, instead of letting things lie, there seems to be a feeling that retribution is required to right the wrong.
Instead of concentrating her time on resolving international issues for her country, US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, has likened her recent travels to an extended ‘apology tour’ to reassure allies who suffered embarrassment, or worse, because of the WikiLeaks disclosures. She also acknowledged it will take years to undo the damage. So why is her government hell-bent on not only continuing to pursue the matter but raise the ire of internet users and governments worldwide by collecting personal information from social networking sites?
Even Americans are starting to question what appears to be a resurrection of McCarthyism, an era of anti-communist paranoia when ‘reds’ were ‘flushed from under the beds.’ The current move will not only increase interest in the WikiLeaks disclosures it may stress some international relationships already frayed by the leaked cables.
Iceland’s Foreign Ministry has already demanded a meeting with Luis Arreaga, the US ambassador to Reykjavik. ”(It is) very serious that a foreign state, the United States, demands such personal information of an Icelandic person, an elected official,” the Interior Minister, Ogmundur Jonasson, told the Icelandic broadcaster RUV. ”This is even more serious when put (in) perspective and concerns freedom of speech and people’s freedom in general.”
This may be the tip of the iceberg. Netizens around the world may be asking their own governments why their data should be allowed to be compromised by any foreign power. Social networking sites will now longer be seen as a means for communicating with friends and loved ones but as a political football to be manipulated by scorned governments. For CSPs, it will be yet another series of requests for information on calls and SMS activity of their customers which may well extend into unchartered waters of disclosing credit card and payment information of their customers. That should make them popular!