Bloomberg News

Wikileaks Backers Lose Appeal of Order on Twitter Records

November 11, 2011

(Updates with comments from the judge’s decision from fourth paragraph.)

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Three Wikileaks backers lost their appeal of a federal magistrate judge’s order allowing U.S. prosecutors to examine information on them collected from their Twitter Inc. accounts.

U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in Alexandria, Virginia, today upheld Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan’s ruling that the U.S. was entitled to the data in connection with a criminal probe of the group’s publication of classified information. The three Wikileaks supporters argued that the government’s subpoena to Twitter violated their privacy and First Amendment rights.

“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,” O’Grady wrote in a 60-page opinion. “The government’s factual basis for the Twitter Order was significantly more concrete than ‘mere speculation’ or ‘blind request.’”

The litigation over the Twitter data was the first public skirmish in the government’s criminal investigation of WikiLeaks’s leader, Julian Assange, and others who may have helped leak diplomatic cables and classified military documents through the WikiLeaks website.

Icelandic Parliament

The subscribers challenging the March 11 order include Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament, Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher who represented WikiLeaks at a 2010 hacker’s conference in New York, and Rop Gonggrijp, described in court papers as a Dutch activist and businessman.

“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,” Jonsdottir said in an e-mailed statement distributed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that describes itself as protecting civil liberties and defending free speech online.

Buchanan’s order required San Francisco-based Twitter to give investigators data on subscribers “associated with WikiLeaks,” including Assange and Bradley Manning, a U.S. soldier charged with leaking classified information.

In her ruling, Buchanan said the three backers didn’t have standing to challenge her order because the government wasn’t seeking the contents of their communications on Twitter.

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

The case is In re Application of the U.S. For an Order Pursuant to 18 USC 2703(d), 11-dm-00003, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).

--Editors: Fred Strasser, Mary Romano

To contact the reporters on this story: Sara Forden in Washington at sforden@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.


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