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Anonymous Twitter Account Suspended Over Westboro Data

Anonymous' war against the Westboro Baptist Church has already claimed one near-casualty: an Anonymous Twitter account.
/ Source: TechNewsDaily

Anonymous' war against the Westboro Baptist Church has already claimed one near-casualty: an Anonymous Twitter account.

Today (Dec. 19), the @YourAnonNews account was temporarily suspended by Twitter for having posted an image displaying the Social Security number of Westboro spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper.

"Your account has been suspended for posting an individual's private information such as private email address, physical address, telephone number or financial documents," read what purported to be an email from Twitter to the operators of the YourAnonNews feed. "It is a violation of the Twitter Rules to post the private and confidential information of others."

The email points to a Twitter support page that explains that "Social Security or other national identity numbers" fall into that category.

Crusade against a church

Over the weekend, various hacktivist groups and individuals, including Anonymous, UgNazi and The Jester, suspended their mutual hostilities to join forces against the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Topeka, Kan., church, infamous for picketing military funerals with offensive signs, had announced Saturday (Dec. 15) that this week it would picket the funerals of children killed in last Friday's Newtown, Conn., elementary-school massacre.

[ Rival Hackers Attack Connecticut Shooting Funeral Protesters ]

According to the Westboro Baptist Church's " picket schedule," church members had planned to picket the funeral of Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung in Woodbury, Conn., this afternoon.

A Tweeted photo showed a gathering of bikers awaiting the Westboro protesters outside the funeral home, but no actual Westboro picket signs.

As usually happens with hacktivist targets, the individuals involved with the Westboro Baptist Church were "doxed" — they had their personal details and information posted online by attackers. (Such private information can sometimes be found by "scraping" public records.)

Anonymous-related Twitter feeds often post links to Pastebin or other "paste" websites that allow unsigned postings of text files. Those postings in turn link to data dumps that contains thousands of pieces of personally identifiable information.

Yet none of those accounts has ever been suspended. The difference in this case may be that the image of Phelps-Roper's Social Security number was housed on Twitter's servers and would have been displayed in many Twitter client applications.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Is Twitter breaking the law?

Earlier this month, Barrett Brown, a journalist who often explains Anonymous' actions to the media, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 12 counts related to identity theft.

Brown had posted a link to a website that housed a data dump containing thousands of credit-card numbers, as well as other information arguably of more interest to Brown, and had 10 credit-card numbers in a file on his own computer.

According to that interpretation of the law, Twitter might be committing a felony as well for having an image containing a Social Security number on its servers. 

Earlier this week, Brown pleaded not guilty to all 12 counts. He faces up to 45 years in prison.

Back in business

As the purported email to @YourAnonNews said, the suspension was merely a warning.

"If you would like to request your account to be restored, please respond to this email and confirm that you've read and understood our rules," it said. "Please note that future Twitter Rules violations may result in permanent account suspension."

About an hour after the account's suspension, @YourAnonNews was back up.

However, its former followers may have to "refollow" it, because the suspension seems to have cleared its data from at least some Twitter clients.