U.S. judge upholds Twitter subpoena of Wikileaks' followers

U.S. judge upholds Twitter subpoena of Wikileaks' followers

Summary: A U.S. federal district judge has upheld previous rulings, allowing the government to access Twitter accounts of Wikileaks' supporters.

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The U.S. Justice Department will be allowed to access the information associated with the Twitter accounts of three Wikileaks' supporters.

Lawyers for the three Twitter account holders -- including Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of Iceland's parliament who had helped Wikileaks' release of a classified U.S. military video --  had argued that forcing Twitter to co-operate with the ongoing investigation would harm Twitter users' freedom of speech, invade their privacy, and could set legal precedence in other cases.

(Source: Flickr, CC)

While the defence argued that the First Amendment rights were at risk, the judge ruled: "The sealed affidavit clearly sets forth specific and articulable facts showing reasonable grounds to believe that the information sought by the government was relevant and material to the investigation".

Agreeing with a similar ruling earlier in March, the federal district judge ruled late yesterday that the: "Twitter order did not violate the Constitution", adding that there was no evidence to show that the order violated federal privacy laws.

While the court order does not seek the content of the tweets themselves -- arguably in most cases, this is public information anyway -- but instead requests the IP addresses associated with the accounts, and any email address information held by Twitter.

The Stored Communications Act allows prosecutors to seek information held electronically without the need of a search warrant, or even probable cause. The government must show that it has belief that the content it seeks holds some relevance to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Worryingly, the court order handed down allows the government to keep secret any similar orders it may have sought from other social networking sites, with the defendant's lawyers speculating that other sites may have been targeted by similar requests.

The case originally came to light in January, when Twitter unsealed a secret request made by the U.S. government, which requested the Twitter accounts in an ongoing criminal investigation into the release of U.S. diplomatic cables by Wikileaks.

Mark Stephens, lawyer to both Wikileaks and Julian Assange, said that the original court order will also cover "the 600,000 odd followers that Wikileaks has on Twitter" -- including myself. @wikileaks now has over 1.2 million followers on Twitter.

With this decision, the court is telling all users of online tools hosted in the U.S. that the U.S. government will have secret access to their data", Jónsdóttir wrote in an email, distributed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group.

Twitter said earlier this year, in reply to a series of broken UK court issued super-injunctions, that the social media giant would "inform users of legal action" wherever possible, but would not defend their actions in court.

The court ruling can be found here.

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9 comments
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  • Murdoch newspaper paid police in UK

    "The government must show that it has belief that the content it seeks holds some relevance to an ongoing criminal investigation"

    Such a test is worthless. Simply a sentence in a request that can never be tested due to the secrecy. Which means in practice it will be like the UK, where secret requests are made under RIPA, and nobody ever has any oversight on them.

    And you'll have your Murdoch moment too, where it was found a Murdoch Newspaper had been paying police to track stars phones using RIPA (search [News of the World pinging] ). You'll wonder too how many of these secret requests are paid for by Fox news.

    -------
    GOP: One Koch brother one vote.
    guihombre
  • The next time the US State Department

    declares, in its characteristically fulsome tones, its undying devotion to 'freedom of the internet' and decries the lack of same lack in certain countries to whose governments it happens to be opposed, it might be wise for readers to keep this particular ruling in mind. Charity, after all, begins at home....<br><br>Henri
    mhenriday
  • RE: U.S. judge upholds Twitter subpoena of Wikileaks' followers

    http://chilp.it/755f2b http://chilp.it/755f2b
    fjrtutrjgky
  • Looks like probable cause to me

    The constitution of the U.S. (and, I'm given to understand, the laws of most other free countries) prohibits *unreasonable* searches. This one appears to be reasonable and the order specifies the places to be search and the items to be located.<br><br>That said, I don't think a prosecutor should ever have authority to order a search unilaterally. That is what courts are for.
    John L. Ries
    • RE: U.S. judge upholds Twitter subpoena of Wikileaks' followers

      @John L. Ries , remember, The Stored Communications Act allows prosecutors to seek information held electronically without the need of a search warrant, or even probable cause. This in itself is a horrible blow to a U.S. citizens rights to privacy and unwarranted searches. The U.S. has become no better than the old communist Russia. Be careful what you read, write and say, because big brother is watching you, comrade.....
      Tinman57
  • RE: U.S. judge upholds Twitter subpoena of Wikileaks' followers

    And the hammer just keep swinging!!! Let this be a lesson--be careful who you choose as an enemy. The hammer is deadly!!
    eargasm
  • RE: U.S. judge upholds Twitter subpoena of Wikileaks' followers

    http://ddp.net/uma http://ddp.net/uma http://ddp.net/uma
    fyretgdf
  • RE: U.S. judge upholds Twitter subpoena of Wikileaks' followers

    The down-side of the First Amendment: The right to free speech, is the right to be heard, or listened to, or spied upon... if you say something!
    Mahegan
  • This is Nothing New

    Most Terms of Service (including, Google) will tell you in legal terms that you do NOT have a right to privacy while using this service. In the case of Twitter, we know of a couple from the UK who were arrested after their plane touched down in Los Angeles because one sent a private tweet to the other with words (UK slang) like "Destroy" and "America" in the same sentance. Most of the commenters were not so concerned with what happened to the couple as they were with the fact that DHS in the U.S. could see the tweet! I think what some of you are probably missing was your use of the term "unwarranted". This information is available from anywhere, Internet or otherwise, with a simple warrant. Go read some TOS statements (Google, Dropbox). This even happens with your phone! It's called wiretapping and it is VERY easy for law enforcement in the U.S. to get a subpoena to do just that. How about cell phones? As I was working for part of a local government, I saw how easy it was to get ANY information from the Cell Phone companies. I had access to a law enforcement portal for one provider that let you chose anything inluding location or eavesdropping.

    Don't confuse freedom of speech with the "right to Privacy". Things like "reasonable" and "unwarranted" are terms that are very nebulous. You may quote from the bill of rights, but, where law enforcement is concerned, most of those rights go out of the window if they can get an okey dokey from a judge (sometimes, just a lawyer). Now throw in the Patriot Act and claims of "National Security". So, the right to be secure in your own home and unreasonable searches: well, all you need is one judge that says the request is reasonable.
    hforman@...