Twitter users seek privacy in WikiLeaks case

16th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Lawyers for three Twitter users asked a US federal judge Tuesday to overturn a court order directing the site to disclose clients' data as part of the government's probe into WikiLeaks.

The order calling on Twitter to release data about the accounts of Icelandic lawmaker Birgitta Jonsdottir, US computer researcher Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp, a Dutch volunteer for WikiLeaks, was handed down in December by Judge Theresa Buchanan.

Buchanan, who heard Tuesday's challenge ordered Twitter in December to hand over to the US government information on the three subscribers and any other clients linked to WikiLeaks, the organization led by Julian Assange that last year released a slew of US diplomatic cables.

The Twitter users did not appear in court, though their lawyers were present.

Buchanan demanded Internet Protocol addresses and the addresses of "tweet" recipients as part of the order.

"The government is attempting to obtain information about individual Internet communications and it's doing it in secret. That's not how our system works," said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) senior lawyer Aden Fine, who was part of the team representing Jonsdottir.

Lawyers for the Twitter users also asked Buchanan to unseal, or make public, still secret documents related to the December order.

Those documents are widely believed to contain information about other companies -- including Google, Facebook and Yahoo -- from which the US government has tried to collect client data for its WikiLeaks probe.

Asking for the data is "a standard investigative measure that is used in criminal investigations every day of the year all over the country," said Assistant US Attorney John Davis.

And Peter Carr, a Department of Justice spokesman, told AFP that because the documents are sealed, it was "speculation that other companies were involved."

The hearing was held as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech on Internet freedom at George Washington University in Washington, saying the United States is "committed to continuing our conversation with people around the world."

"The demand for access to platforms of expression cannot be satisfied when using them lands you in prison," Clinton said in the speech, referring to crackdowns on bloggers and Twitter users in countries like Syria or Iran.

Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted that just as Clinton spoke, "the US Department of Justice was trying to keep secret many of the facts of its investigation into the very mechanism that inspired the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.'

The December court order directing Twitter to release details of its three clients' accounts was itself sealed -- or secret -- until last week, when the details were made public to allow Jonsdottir, Appelbaum and Gonggrijp the right to reply.

"The government shouldn't be able to get this information in the first place, and shouldn't be able to get it in secret," Fine said in his arguments to Buchanan.

He later told AFP that "once the government gets the information, there's no un-ringing of that bell."

In Jonsdottir's case, actions by the court and US government are "especially troubling" because they show a disregard for Icelandic law, which gives lawmakers in the Nordic country broad immunity, according to Cohn.

"Courts usually try to honor another country's laws," she said.

Jonsdottir told Britain's Guardian newspaper last month that the US justice department's request for her and others' personal information from Twitter was "completely over the top."

"It's a warning for anyone who had anything to do with WikiLeaks," she said.

In a statement issued Monday, Assange called the US court order "an outrageous attack by the Obama administration on the privacy and free speech rights of Twitter's customers."

The judge did not indicate when she would make her decision.

© 2011 AFP

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