Skip to main content

Justice Department defends Wikileaks Twitter data request


At a court in Virginia, the U.S. Department of Justice outlined the reasons it wants Twitter to hand of data regarding the official Wikileaks account, as well as the accounts of three individuals associated with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange—one of whom happens to be a member of the Icelandic parliament. U.S. prosecutors say the information request is part of their ongoing investigation into the Wikileaks site, which has earned U.S. government ire for publishing the contents of selected diplomatic cables. Many of the cables show the U.S. and its allies in unflattering lights and, according to the U.S. government, at least, potentially put the safety of confidential informants and other people at risk.

However, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union as well as attorneys representing the account holders in question argue the government’s request violates the account holders’ rights to privacy and freedom of association. “What’s at stake here is the ability to use the internet freely and privately, without the government looking over their shoulder,” said the ACLU’s Aden Fine, in an interview.

Attorney’s representing Julian Assange argued that the Justice Department lacks jurisdiction for information regarding the official Wikileaks account.

At the heart of the hearing are still-sealed requests from the Justice Department that Twitter hand over information about the four accounts, including account details and private messages, as well as information like IP addresses and activity logs. Information like IP addresses can potentially be used to track locations of users. The Justice Department’s court order for the information was issued in December; Twitter’s response was to ask that the court order be unsealed so it could inform its users their information was being requested by the government. The existence of the government’s request become public in January, but the exact nature of the order is still sealed. Attorney General Eric Holder has implied that the order may not rely on the U.S.’s Espionage Act, noting in December that his attorneys are looking at other avenues to prosecution as well.

The status of the proceedings implies that Twitter has not turned over the requested information. Prosecutors indicated that their investigation into Wikileaks is still in early stages and is not unusual, describing the information request as a standard investigative tool akin to requesting information about phone records or credit card usage.

The judge did not immediately issue a ruling.

The hearing came on the same day U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forcefully outlined the importance of Internet freedoms as a U.S. foreign policy priority, while defending the U.S. government’s response to Wikileaks, saying that confidentiality and transparency were not mutually exclusive.

Editors' Recommendations

Geoff Duncan
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Geoff Duncan writes, programs, edits, plays music, and delights in making software misbehave. He's probably the only member…
Judge rules Twitter must hand over info in Wikileaks probe
Julian Assange (WikiLeaks)

U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady has ruled that Twitter must disclose information about three account holders to federal prosecutors as they pursue an ongoing investigation into Wikileaks. The three accounts in question belong to Icelandic parliament member Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Dutch computer expert Rop Gonggrijp, and Jacob Appelbaum, a Wikileaks volunteer from Seattle, Washington. Twitter has been ordered to hand over information including email addresses, IP addresses, and private messages associated with the accounts.

In ordering Twitter comply with the Justice Department's request, O'Grady specifically rejected the account-owners' assertions that the Justice Department request violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment by seeking information without a warrant. According to O'Grady, the three users relinquished their expectation of privacy under third-party doctrine when they volunteered that information to Twitter through their use of the service.

Read more
British high court rules Assange arrest warrant valid
Julian Assange, October 2011

After months of legal drama, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is much closer to being extradited to Sweden to face sex crime charges: Britain's High Court has ruled that the Sweden arrest warrant for Assange was both issued and executed correctly. In a bid to avoid extradition, Assange's lawyers had been arguing that the Swedish prosecutor seeking the extradition was not a "judicial authority" under the law, and therefore had no authority to issue a European arrest warrant. The High Court dismissed that argument, finding that the warrant was valid, while allowing European member states must exercise due "scrutiny" on surrender requests from other states.

Assange's legal team did not have a response to the high court's ruling, which seems to have come as a bit of a surprise to the court. According to media reports, Assange's legal team had received a copy of the ruling late last week, and were widely expected to immediate file for permission to take the case to Britain's supreme court. Assange's team has up to 14 days to make such a filing, however.

Read more
Assange says Wikileaks desperate for money
Julian Assange, October 2011

Wikileaks has drawn a storm of criticism from governments (particularly the U.S. government) and corporations around the world for publishing classified information about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, corporate malfeasance, and other sensitive topics—and, as a result, found itself cut off from its major sources of funding as institutions like MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, Western Union, and Bank of America refused to handle payments for the organization. Now, that financial "blockade" is taking its toll: Wikileaks has temporarily suspended publishing new information to work on bringing in money, and founder Julian Assange says the organization could shut down by the end of the year.

"These politicized companies believe they have the right to stop you voting with your wallet," Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said in a video statement. "We have decided to throw all our efforts into fighting these corrupt financial institutions."

Read more