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Rights groups rail against Twitter's Politwoops ban

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Rights groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access, Free Press, and Human Rights Watch have joined in opposition to Twitter's recent crackdown on Politwoops, a network of sites that archived deleted tweets from politicians worldwide. In an open letter, the coalition says Twitter's ban "holds grave consequences for free expression and transparency around the world."

"The right to information, free speech, and privacy protect people and enable them to hold the powerful to account," says Open State Foundation executive director Arjan El Fassed in a statement; the Open State Foundation is the Netherlands-based organization behind Politwoops. "By blocking Politwoops, Twitter has decided to forsake these values, and the only people who will benefit are the powerful."

"Imagine how nerve-racking — terrifying, even — tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable?" Twitter told the Open State Foundation by way of explanation at the time. "No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user's voice." But in today's letter, the coalition argues against that reasoning, saying it "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 coalition is demanding that Twitter restore API access to Politwoops immediately and update its developer policies to explicitly support transparency in the public interest. The letter's full list of signatories is Access, Alternatif Bilisim, Art 34-bis, Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles, Blueprint for Free Speech, Derechos Digitales, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Human Rights Watch, Jinbonet, OpenMedia International, Open State Foundation, Paradigm Initiative, Pirate Party, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, and Sunlight Foundation.