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Sept. 4, 2015, 1:35 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.accessnow.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   September 4, 2015

A collection of advocacy groups from around the world on Friday released an open letter to Twitter, calling on the company to restore API access to Politwoops, a site that archived politicians’ deleted tweets.

In May, Twitter pulled the American version of Politwoops’ API access, and followed suit with the international editions last month. In a statement to my colleague Laura Hazard Owen, a Twitter spokesman rationalized the decision by saying, “The ability to delete one’s Tweets — for whatever reason — has been a long-standing feature of Twitter for all users.”

In the letter, the groups argued that public figures should be held to a higher standard because their constituencies have a direct interest in what they post online:

Twitter’s reasoning conflates transparency and accountability with privacy. We agree that when users decide to delete tweets they are engaging in expression — but add that the public has a compelling interest in the expression of public officials. Recognizing this public interest, courts have long held that public officials do not receive the same treatment for privacy. Further, when public officials use Twitter to amplify their political views, they invite greater scrutiny of their expression. Journalists and civil society utilize tools like Politwoops to understand the views and commitments of the people these politicians represent—and the politician or candidate’s own intents and perspective. In this case, the citizen’s right to freedom of expression — which includes access to information — outweighs the official’s right to a retroactive edit.

The groups signing the letter include Politwoops’ original developer, the Open State Foundation; Human Rights Watch; the Sunlight Foundation; Free Press; the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and others.

In the letter, the groups recommended that Twitter restore Politwoops’ API access while also developing API policies that allow groups to “effectively promote accountability and transparency for the public interest.” The letter also invites Twitter to participate in meetings with various constituencies to work on these policies.

“The right to information, free speech, and privacy protect people and enable them to hold the powerful to account,” Open State Foundation executive director Arjan El Fassed said in a statement. “By blocking Politwoops, Twitter has decided to forsake these values, and the only people who will benefit are the powerful.”

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