Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Twitter WikiLeaks Information Hand Over Case Waits For Decision

By Jerry Smith Feb 16 2011

U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan had ordered Twitter to give U.S. investigators the data they had on subscribers “associated with WikiLeaks,” including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier charged with leaking classified information, Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, US computer researcher Jacob Appelbaum, and Dutch volunteer for WikiLeaks Rop Gonggrijp.

Today, during the hour long hearing she heard a challenge to that order, but made no decision and said that she would issue a written opinion when she had made a decision.

Prosecutors had requested subscriber names, contact information, billing records, user activity, Internet Protocol addresses and source and destination e-mail addresses.

Prosecutors claim their request for the information is just like a request for telephone records, and insist they are not seeking the details of the conversations between the individuals.

John Davis, a lawyer representing the prosecutors said:
"This is a standard investigative measure used every day of the year all across the country."
San Francisco-based lawyer John Keker, representing one of the WikiLeaks backers told the judge:
“The government says there’s no expectation of privacy when logging into Twitter. Our point is, this is not phone records. It’s not bank records. This is something different.”
Keker thinks the information will allow the U.S. government to create a database of people with ties to WikiLeaks, which could hurt free speech online and said:
“It is incredibly powerful to know who the opposition is and who they’re working with.”
Keker argued that handing over the information would violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, and that the prosecutors "couldn't justify an order as broad" as the order Buchanan granted.

Keker said:
"If they want to go on a fishing expedition, they should get a search warrant or a subpoena."
Judge Buchanan felt Keker was exaggerating the amount of information the government could get with her order and said:
“What they’re seeking is location data and timing data.”
Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department said the demand for Twitters records was standard procedure and necessary for the investigation into Wikileaks' release of thousands of diplomatic cables online.

Aden Fine, one on the attorneys representing Jonsdottir, and staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Speech, Privacy and Technology Project said:
"Like many elected officials, our client uses Twitter and other online tools to communicate with her constituents and express her political views. The government shouldn’t be trying to find out about her communications unless they can withstand serious First Amendment scrutiny, and the government hasn’t done that here."

"The government’s request is especially troubling because it seeks information about all statements made by our client, not just speech about the subject of the government’s investigation."
Fine also said:
"Except in truly extraordinary circumstances, internet users should receive notice and an opportunity to go to court to defend their constitutional rights before their privacy is compromised. That’s what is happening now, thanks to Twitter’s efforts."

“It’s very alarming that the government is trying to obtain detailed information about people’s communications over the Internet.”

“They shouldn’t be able to get that in the first place, but above all they shouldn’t be able to get it in secret.”
Media lawyer Bruce D. Brown said:
“This is just round one in what promises to be an ongoing fight about the government trying to have the tools to bring WikiLeaks into an American court.”
Cindy Cohn, legal director of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and one of the lawyers representing Jonsdottir said:
“There are First Amendment implications because information being sought pertains to speech. We also think there are Fourth Amendment implications because some of the information reveals location.”
Assange is in London under house arrest, waiting for the verdict in his extradition hearing, which should be Feb 24. The Swedish police have not charged Assange with anything, but want him extradited to face questions about accusations of rape and sexual molestation made against him by Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin, which he denies.

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