IU researcher weighs in on Twitter, WikiLeaks case

Christopher Soghoian, IU cybersecurity researcher, recently contributed to the case with an amicus brief relating to online privacy policies.

“I’m not a lawyer or a law student, I’m a computer scientist,” Soghoian said. “But this affects my research community.”

Soghoian said the case is complex and high-profile as it involves not only WikiLeaks, but also Twitter.

Within the case, Soghoian said he is focused on “one narrow issue: the degree to which consumers can be expected to read privacy policies.”

“Privacy policies shouldn’t impact a reasonable expectation of privacy for information stored online,” Soghoian said.

He said his amicus brief, which he filed with 10 co-signers, “is a way for experts to let courts know about things they may not be aware of and to alert them to research.”

He said substantial research exists showing that no one reads these online privacy policies.

“It may seem common sense to people, but a judge may not be aware of how young people are using the Internet today,” Soghoian said.

As for the Twitter users, Soghoian has spoken to one of them: computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum.

“In addition to the case, he’s been hassled repeatedly,” Soghoian said. “He’s been stripped and had his computers taken away from him.”

All of this has happened to Appelbaum despite no charges being filed, Soghoian said, because “you have no rights coming in and out of the country.”

He said Appelbaum’s treatment has been of much concern to him.

“I have personal experience with the FBI seizing my possessions and going through my data,” Soghoian said. “I am reluctant to let them get to other people.”

Soghoian referred to a 2006 raid on his Bloomington home by the FBI, which occurred after he created a website allowing users to make fake Northwest Airlines boarding passes. His intent was to expose security threats.

The amicus brief was accepted April 1 and will be read by the judge for the second hearing.

“I think (the judge) will realize that, in fact, consumers are not reading these things,” Soghoian said.

He said he finds the case itself fun.

“It’s one of the highest profile cases, and it’s great to be involved in some small way.”

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