Jun 4, 2015 · 2 minutes

Twitter is being roundly criticized for preventing the Sunlight Foundation from using its developer API to gather deleted tweets from hundreds of politicians. It shouldn't be -- instead, it should be celebrated for defending its users' privacy.

The Sunlight Foundation was using Twitter's developer API for a website called Politwoops. Politico credits the site with helping journalists break stories, and it's widely considered a tool for holding politicians accountable for their tweets.

Here's what Philip Bump said about Twitter's decision in the Washington Post:

An anonymous user is not a public figure; a member of Congress is. The former has a high expectation of privacy, as what he says and does is not newsworthy. The latter -- according to a lot of legal precedent -- doesn't enjoy the same privilege. If Bill Clinton has an affair with a staffer, that's more newsworthy than if the guy who manages your grocery store does.
Bump is right. Public figures are often thought to have less privacy than their counterparts. But does that mean Twitter shouldn't enforce one of the rules for its developer API?

Here's how Twitter explained its decision to Gawker:

Earlier today we spoke to the Sunlight Foundation, to tell them we will not restore Twitter API access for their Politwoops site. We strongly support Sunlight’s mission of increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents, but preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement. Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.
Twitter's point makes sense. Its developer API doesn't discriminate between tweets sent by a schlub like me and a member of public office. And I, for one, would prefer my deleted tweets to vanish instead of being held in perpetuity.

Besides, it's not like Twitter is making an exception for politicians. Rather, it's saying that even though politicians are often held to different standards than other people, the rules governing its developer API are the same for everyone.

I want my deleted tweets to stay deleted. I want my photos to remain private. Expecting anything else for "public figures," whether they're politicians or celebrities, would create an untenable double standard for Twitter to enforce.

Twitter isn't only defending politicians; it's protecting all of its users. I suspect there are more private citizens than politicians using the platform, so if having a reasonable expectation of privacy makes things harder for a site that collects politicians' gaffes, well, I'm happy to bid Politwoops a fond, but prompt, adieu.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]