Twitter Fights US Court Demands For WikiLeaks Details

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Twitter is fighting a US court’s demand, made in December, for details of WikiLeaks supporters

Micro-blogging site Twitter is opposing an order from a US court, to reveal the account details of supporters of WikiLeaks. Twitter has called on Facebook and Google to reveal whether they also received similar court orders.

As part of the US government’s investigation into WikiLeaks, a court ordered Twitter, in mid-December, to give details of accounts owned by supporters of the whistle-blower site. Twitter has protested against the subpoena and informed the individuals whose account information has  been requested, while raising the possibility that other social networking players have received similar orders.

Records required for criminal investigation

The US Department of Justice obtained a subpoena for the micro-blogging site on 14 December, requesting records going back to 1 November 2009, that are “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.” Among those targeted are WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp (whose name is misspelled in the subpoena) and Bradley Manning, the US Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking documents to WikiLeaks.

Also named in the subpoena are computer programmer Jacob Appelbaum (identified by his Twitter username, ioerror) and former WikiLeaks volunteer and current Icelandic parliament member Birgitta Jónsdóttir (left), who wrote the following in a tweet: “just got this: Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account in (relation to wikileaks).”

Jónsdóttir also tweeted that she plans to oppose the subpoena.

According to a copy of the court order published by Salon.com (PDF), the government is looking for a variety of information, including session times and mailing addresses.

“WikiLeaks strongly condemns this harassment of individuals by the US government,” WikiLeaks said in a statement relayed to Reuters by WikiLeaks attorney Mark Stephens.

The recent WikiLeaks controversy began when the site started publishing a trove of US diplomatic cables in late November. The release of the documents has touched off months of debate and prompted WikiLeaks supporters and opponents alike to air their differences with denial-of-service attacks while businesses such as PayPal cut ties with the whistle-blower site.

In December, Assange was arrested in the UK on charges of sexual assault originating in Sweden. He is currently out on bail.

In its statement, WikiLeaks reportedly said that some of the people named in the subpoena were key figures in helping WikiLeaks make public US military video of a 2007 airstrike that killed Iraqi civilians. WikiLeaks is instructing its lawyers to oppose the subpoena, and is calling on Facebook and Google to disclose whether they received similar subpoenas as well.

A federal judge unsealed the court order on 5 January after Twitter requested the right to inform the people being targeted.

In addition to obtaining the subpoena, it was also revealed that the US government has taken steps to protect people judged by officials to be in danger because of the document leak. On 7 January, US State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley told the media the department has helped relocate “a handful of people” identified in the diplomatic documents out of concern for their safety. The CIA set up a WikiLeaks Task Force (WTF) in response to the leak.

WikiLeaks has denied putting any lives at risk, and the UN has supported its right to publish the leaked material on human rights grounds.

WikiLeaks publication of the US cables resulted ina war of denial of service (DoS) attacks, hitting both WikiLeaks itself , and the sites of financial institutions such as Mastercard, which withdrew facilities for WikiLeaks supporters to donate money to the whistleblower.


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