U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

Summary: The U.S. government forced Google and a small Californian ISP to hand over data belonging to a Wikileaks volunteer, reports say.

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The U.S. government used a controversial electronic eavesdropping law to force Google and a small Internet service provider into handing over email account data of a Wikileaks volunteer, the Wall Street Journal reported overnight.

Using a controversial law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act -- which allows the government and law enforcement to obtain email and phone records without a search warrant -- one of the companies fought the order through legal channels, but lost.

Both Google and Sonic.net, a small Internet provider based in Santa Rosa, California, were forced to turn over data to authorities, with Sonic resisting and fighting the warrant. The ISP told CNET that "we did manage to unsearl the specific order in order to provide it to Appelbaum", but could not offer any more details as the "the case remains under seal".

In response, according to security researcher Christopher Soghoian, Sonic.net has now "adopted a 2 week data retention policy for IP logs".

Search giant Google declined to comment on the issue, on whether it complied with the order or resisted, the Wall Street Journal said.

(Source: Ria Novosti)

Jacob Appelbaum, a Wikileaks volunteer and central to this case, had his email account searched for contacts and people he communicated with, rather than the contents of the emails that were sent and received, according to reports.

Though he has not been charged with any offence, the newspaper added, others report that he had been subject to interrogation at airports, nor has the government told Appelbaum why he is under surveillance.

The order Google received dated to the start of this year, January 4th, 2011, directing the search giant to reveal the IP address from which Applebaum logged into his Gmail account, along with the email addresses of those he communicated with dating back to November 1st, 2009.

Wikileaks angered and embarrassed the U.S. government with the release of the U.S. diplomatic cables this year and last, leading to the largest cache of classified material released into the public domain to date. Eric Holder, attorney general, is still investigating an "active criminal investigation" against the whistleblowing website.

Twitter fought a similar court order to hand over private information of Wikileaks supporters, including that of Appelbaum, as part of its ongoing investigation into the U.S. diplomatic cables leaks.

It is no secret, however, that under such investigations, government is more interested in who one communicates with, rather than the contents of such documents or email -- allowing law enforcement to build up a wider network of those involved and potential suspects, rather than warranted and difficult-to-obtain court orders, which can often tip off those involved to react with legal action.

Google started disclosing the number of requests it had received from the U.S. government in 2009. Including search warrants, subpoenas and requests under the controversial Electronic Communications Privacy Act, it complied with over 90 percent of those received.

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15 comments
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  • It's his involvement in TOR

    They'd like a law that makes it a crime to write encrypted communications, but they *have* a law that lets them snoop on people, deny them flights and harass them at the border.<br><br>So Appelbaum gets harassed, secretly searched and sooner or later will probably be blocked from flying.<br><br>It has nothing to do with his Wikileaks support, it's a free country and you're allowed to stand up and express support for whoever you think fit.<br><br>2% of the US owns 98% of the wealth and pays only 70% of the taxes, and controls 100% of the GOP.
    guihombre
    • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

      @guihombre
      Eric holder and those who appointed him are not in the GOP. Sorry hippie
      KenoshaSysAdmin
    • Not so secret

      @guihombre <br><br>If it's in the news, it's not "secret", is it?<br><br>As for the statements in the article, "Though he has not been charged with any offence, the newspaper added, others report that he had been subject to interrogation at airports, nor has the government told Appelbaum why he is under surveillance."<br><br>The assumption is being made that criminal investigations only involve interrogation/interviewing of the actual guilty parties (or assumed to be guilty). However, police & other investigators will routinely interview innocent parties, such as:<br> -- witnesses to the crime or crimes committed<br> -- friends, families, co-workers & acquaintances of the suspects being considered; <br> -- "persons of interest", i.e. people that may have been involved in the activities (willingly/not willingly, knowingly/not knowingly) or related activities, people that might have the potential for inclusion in the investigation as "accessories", or simply because they're assumed to have information that will be valuable to the investigation.

      Since they haven't arrested him, at most he's a "person of interest" to them, or merely a witness.
      spdragoo
      • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

        @spdragoo@... I have heard Mr. Appelbaum speak on the subject. In my opinion, the government's action is pure harassment.
        optimoz
  • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

    I have to take issue with one statement: "difficult-to-obtain court orders"<br><br>Surveillance and wire-tapping orders are not difficult to obtain, the federal courts refuse less than 1 percent of such orders every year. And most of those are re-submitted with minor revisions and approved. The agencies have honed the process of "judge shopping" down to a fine art, they have very nice internal dossiers to the judges who are most and least cooperative.

    Orders that are applied to broad fishing expeditions are more likely to be contested by companies, but they end up in compromises, not in overturning the order. If there is any "difficulty" in the process, it is getting the agent to exert some minimum amount of effort in writing the request in the first place.
    terry flores
    • Here's a question

      @terry flores
      how do you get a court order to search a suspect's email using a computer system compromised by the suspect?

      Wouldn't he find out?
      William Farrell
      • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

        @William Farrell If you have to break the law (or write one completely unConstitutional) in order to run your witch hunt...you aren't standing on legal ground in the first place.

        Criminals WITH badges are the worst kind. The Constitution is there to protect Americans from OUR government! Get off the couch and stand up for America!

        Wikileaks is an evil vile corruption of free speach.
        timspublic1
  • The Electronic Communications Privacy Act is un-Constitutional

    U.S. Department of Justice is the largest organized crime syndicate in this country. And AG Holder is the greatest criminal in this country.
    Dr_Zinj
    • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

      Happens a lot these days....
      bclomptwihm
  • Get Rid Of All IP Logs

    ISPs should maintain the absolute minimum logs required by law and advertise that they do it - I bet they would improve their business.
    goingbust
  • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

    Who do you think issues search warrants? Duh-ee, the courts. If it was a court order, it was a warrant. And you refer to court orders throughout the article. So which is it -- court ordered or not?
    Vesicant
    • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

      @Vesicant A warrant IS a court order, but all court orders are not warrants.
      timspublic1
  • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

    Is it OK to believe that the US security apparatus found employment for all of the Ministerium f??r Staatssicherheit (STASI) agents who lost their jobs when Germany reunified? NASA did it for NAZI scientists so why not...
    zdnetaaaaaaaaa15
  • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

    There's a saying that goes "The enemy can lose ninety nine times out of a hundred but we lose the war." The government can misuse the law ninety nine times out of a hundred but still justify using it. I don't know how this can be corrected even when both sides of the argument can be understood, there's no clear answer.
    trm1945
  • RE: U.S. issues secret, warrantless court order for email data of Wikileaks' volunteer

    We live in a police state. We also have the finest government that money can buy....
    Tinman57