Any Twitter user knows that, instead of “tweeting” in an open forum, he can send a private message to another user. According to the FBI and the Department of Justice, if you believe that to be the case, you are wrong. There is no such thing as a private message on Twitter.

If someone could send a private message on Twitter, then the Department of Justice would have to follow the wording of the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

So a private message would be a “paper” or “effect.” The government would need a warrant to grab it off the internet. It would have to support that warrant by a description of what it was trying to obtain. It couldn’t say, “We want to check this tweeter out and see if he is doing something wrong.” The investigator would have to explain what he thinks he will find.

But, again, the FBI and the Justice Department deny that you are able to send a private message on Twitter. They also deny you can send a private Facebook message. As Cnet reports:

“The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI believe they don’t need a search warrant to review Americans’ e-mails, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages, and other private files, internal documents reveal. Government documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and provided to CNET show a split over electronic privacy rights within the Obama administration, with Justice Department prosecutors and investigators privately insisting they’re not legally required to obtain search warrants for e-mail… The U.S. attorney for Manhattan circulated internal instructions, for instance, saying a subpoena – a piece of paper signed by a prosecutor, not a judge – Is sufficient to obtain nearly ‘all records from an ISP.’ And the U.S. attorney in Houston recently obtained the ‘contents of stored communications’ from an unnamed Internet service provider without securing a warrant signed by a judge first.”

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