Rogue tweeters in government could be prosecuted as hackers

This photo shows a Twitter post from the National Park Service's Redwoods National Park account, noting that redwood groves are nature's No. 1 carbon sink, which capture greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming Legal experts say the Justice Department could prosecute tweets from federal agency accounts by unauthorized users under federal hacking laws. Some say that even employees authorized to use official agency Twitter accounts could face legal jeopardy posting messages they weren’t supposed to write. (National Park Service via AP)

WASHINGTON — Who are the federal government's rogue tweeters, using official agency social media accounts to poke President Donald Trump? Are these acts of civil disobedience, or federal crimes?

The online campaign began with unauthorized tweets — on subjects such as climate change inconsistent with Trump's campaign statements and policies — that have been mostly deleted from official agency accounts. It shifted tactics Thursday as at least 40 new but unofficial "alternative" accounts for federal agencies began spreading across Twitter. It wasn't clear how many unofficial accounts were run by government employees, but there were early indications that at least some were created by federal workers using their work email addresses — and that may have exposed their identities.

The administration said the earlier Twitter actions involved tweets by unauthorized users — at least one was a former employee — who still had passwords for the agency accounts, including one case involving the account for the Redwoods National Park in California. Legal experts said the Justice Department could prosecute such tweeters under federal hacking laws, but the FBI so far was not involved.

"An unauthorized user had an old password in the San Francisco office, went in and started retweeting inappropriate things that were in violation of their policy," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said. Separately, the National Park Service said tweets published earlier this week on the account of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota were posted by a former employee not authorized to use the account.

Employees or former employees publishing unauthorized messages on official accounts could be prosecuted under the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibits someone from exceeding authorized access to computers. "The argument would be that the authorization to use the account was only for employees and implicitly that was extinguished when the employee left government employment," said Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University.

Even employees authorized to use official agency Twitter accounts could face legal jeopardy posting messages they weren't supposed to write, said Stewart Baker, a cybersecurity lawyer and former National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security official.

"If someone says you may not tweet except in these circumstances, and you tweet in other circumstances, you're exceeding authority," Baker said. He added that some federal courts would examine the security measures in place and could throw out cases where employees weren't clearly violating them.

"It wouldn't surprise me if at this stage a criminal investigation was opened and criminal tools were used to investigate this, even if at the end of the day they decided not to pursue criminal charges," Baker said.

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter by name, said he was unaware of any requests from federal agencies to investigate the rogue tweets.

The unauthorized messages posted under official accounts appeared to be dropping off, as the Trump administration regained control over its agency accounts. Over last weekend, immediately after Trump's inauguration, transition staff changed all social media passwords for the Environmental Protection Agency, said Jared Blumenfeld, a former EPA official under the Obama administration who said he was speaking regularly with former colleagues.

Starting Wednesday, scores of unofficial Twitter accounts appeared purporting to represent federal agencies, mocking Trump using the same social media service the president uses daily. At least some were linked to federal employees using work email addresses who inadvertently revealed their involvement.

Twitter users can choose to allow others on the service to find them by searching for their email address. In other cases, Twitter notified users who previously shared their online address books using Twitter's "Find Friends" feature that anonymous accounts were created by federal employees whose work email addresses were already in those address books.

One side effect to the Twitter dispute? Some U.S. government Twitter accounts saw surges in followers.

"We're thrilled you found us," said the official account for Biscayne National Park in Florida, "for whatever reason."

___

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Tami Abdollah and Matthew Daly in Washington, Ellen Knickmeyer and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Must Read

Roman theater uncovered at base of Jerusalem's...

Oct 16, 2017

Israeli archaeologists find 1,800-year-old Roman-era theater in Jerusalem's Old City abutting the...

Israeli company says it has produced tiniest...

Jan 8, 2018

Israel's Kedma company in southern Arava desert says it's produced tiniest tomato, about the size...

Man dies during horse race at Mexico girl's...

Dec 27, 2016

A man has been killed and another injured in a horse race during celebrations for a Mexico girl's...

Lorena Ochoa to play her LPGA Tour event in May

Mar 6, 2017

Lorena Ochoa is going to compete on the LPGA Tour for the first time in five years, but only for...

Migrant quest for Mexican dream cut short in quake

Sep 27, 2017

The women working at ABC Toys on the second floor of a nondescript Mexico City building drew so...

People also read these

Roman theater uncovered at base of Jerusalem's...

Oct 16, 2017

Israeli archaeologists find 1,800-year-old Roman-era theater in Jerusalem's Old City abutting the...

Ochoa to play only an exhibition at her LPGA Tour...

Mar 7, 2017

Lorena Ochoa will be playing in her LPGA Tour event in Mexico, but only for an exhibition

Stopped at US border, Haitians find 'Mexican...

Sep 20, 2017

Thousands of Haitians have settled on Mexico's northwestern border after the U.S. abruptly closed...

Migrant quest for Mexican dream cut short in quake

Sep 27, 2017

The women working at ABC Toys on the second floor of a nondescript Mexico City building drew so...

Activists in Mexico protect, release sea turtle...

Dec 5, 2017

Watched by tourists, activists and a helpful guard dog named Lulu, a new generation of olive ridley...

About Us

Walk To The Place offers travel news of popular destinations for travelers with the urge to explore these places.

Contact us: sales@walktotheplace.com

Subscribe Now!