Judge Wants To Know Who's Behind Devin Nunes' Cow's And Mom's Twitter Account

from the but-does-he-need-to? dept

A new twist in the first of Devin Nunes' SLAPP suits: the judge has asked Twitter to reveal to him who is behind the two satirical Twitter accounts that Devin Nunes is suing over. According to the Fresno Bee:

A Virginia judge has asked Twitter to provide more information about the authors of two anonymous parody accounts that heckle California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes before deciding whether to dismiss the congressman’s lawsuit against the social media company.

Judge John Marshall is weighing a request from San Francisco-based Twitter to dismiss Nunes’ lawsuit on the grounds that it does not belong in Virginia.

Marshall asked Twitter to provide the names and addresses of the anonymous authors behind the two accounts, the gross amount of revenue for Twitter in 2018 and the first half of 2019 and the number of Twitter accounts in Virginia.

The issue, right now, is whether or not the cases should be thrown out for improper venue / jurisdiction shopping. Political consultant Liz Mair (who was also sued) and Twitter have both told the court that the case belongs in California -- and suggested (reasonably) that Nunes only filed in Virginia to avoid California's anti-SLAPP law (which would make him liable for their legal expenses).

So you can kind of understand why the judge wants to know where the still anonymous account holders live, as that could play into the venue question. However, it still seems like Judge Marshall's request is overly broad. He could have just asked for information, should Twitter even have it, of where the account holders reside (I'm not even sure if Twitter has such info). But there's no reason at all for the judge to need to know the names of the account holders, even if he promises not to reveal them, if the goal is to figure out what is the proper venue.

For what it's worth, both of the account holders deny being Virginia residents.

Since this is a request to Twitter, it's that company that is now on the hook here. Twitter has a pretty long history of pushing back on attempts to unmask anonymous or pseudonymous users by courts. It doesn't always succeed, but there are important issues at stake here. There are lots of times when angry recipients of parody accounts have tried to unmask who is mocking them. We see it all too often, and it's obviously an intimidation technique by thin-skinned public officials.

And, relatedly, the Supreme Court has ruled that anonymity itself is protected by the 1st Amendment, so these Twitter account holders shouldn't be forced to give that up just because a judge is curious, let alone because Devin Nunes' fragile ego is offended. While the judge can claim that he needs to know in order to determine if the case is in the proper venue, it seems that rather than requiring the names, merely knowing the general location (zip code?) of the account holders would seem to be a much more reasonable -- and Constitutional -- method of doing so.

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Filed Under: anonymity, california, devin nunes, devin nunes cow, devin nunes mom, fishing expedition, parody, venue, virginia
Companies: twitter

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 11:39am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Essentially correct but there are some points to be aware of.

    First off, the only entities that have access to all of that information are the person's ISP, and if we're talking cellphones and SIMs, only the carrier has that info. All Twitter sees is an IP, they don't see the MAC and they can only see the GPS if the device has that capability and the app has been granted permission to it. Also they wouldn't see it if they are just logging in through a mobile web browser.

    Second, supposing they are using a desktop, they don't have a GPS and the MAC is not tied to the MAC of their computer, it's tied to the MAC of their modem. Small difference, maybe, but important because it doesn't tie it to a user's device, only their modem. If they have an open wifi/network, anyone could have used it.

    Third, Google has more resources and data to be able to track someone's location more accurately. Most everyone else can only go off IP address. Case in point, Google sometimes tells me my desktop is in a city a few hundred miles away, depending on how my ISP is routing traffic.

    Fourth, as has been said, IP spoofing is a thing. When all you have to go off of is an IP (and you can't see the MAC or do a lookup, as is the case with Twitter), that makes it very unreliable for an accurate location. Plus there's also VPNs and TOR which will wreak all kinds of havoc in tying an IP to a specific user.

    All that to say, your basic statements about how IPs and DHCP work are essentially correct, but they don't apply in this instance. What you are thinking of is more of a LAN. Concept is the same on the internet but there are some differences that make tying an IP address to a user very unreliable.

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