STE WILLIAMS

WikiLeaks lawyer dubs US subpoena on Twitter ‘harassment’

Jan
12

US prosecutor demands that Twitter hand over data about WikiLeaks and a raft of supporters amounts to harassment, a lawyer for the whistle-blower website says.

The claim comes amid revelations of documents the US Department of Justice secretly filed in federal court seeking detailed information associated with the accounts of WikiLeaks and several of its supporters, including Icelandic Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir, founder Julian Assange, and Rop Gonggrijp and Jacob Appelbaum, who are hackers who have worked with Assange in the past. Pfc. Bradley Manning, the US Army intelligence analyst suspected of supplying WikiLeaks with classified government documents was also targeted.

Mark Stephens, an attorney representing the secret-spilling website, told journalists over the weekend that the demands violate the US Constitution’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures and amounts to a shake down.

“The Department of Justice is turning into an agent of harassment rather than an agent of law,” Stephens told Bloomberg News. “They’re shaking the tree to see if anything drops out, but more important they are shaking down people who are supporters of WikiLeaks.”

Stephens went on to tell Bloomberg that similar information was sought from Google, Facebook and eBay’s Skype division. Those companies have yet to confirm or deny that claim.

The government’s dragnet might never have come to light were it not for the actions of Twitter, which under the national security letters filed on December 14 in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia was forbidden from notifying its subscribers that their information was being demanded. Lawyers for the micro-blogging filed a motion to unseal the court order and won last week.

The company easily could have complied with the order and faced “zero” liability for doing so, said Christopher Soghoian, a Ph.D. candidate in Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing, where he is researching data security and privacy, cyber law.

“It is wonderful to see companies taking a strong stance, and fighting for their users’ privacy,” he blogged. “I am sure that this will pay long term PR dividends to Twitter, and is a refreshing change, compared to the actions by some other major telecommunications and internet application providers, who often bend over backwards to help law enforcement agencies.”

He went on to highlight comments made a few years ago by eBay’s director of compliance boasting that the online auction house “has probably the most generous policy of any internet company when it comes to sharing information.” The site doesn’t require a subpoena “except for very limited circumstances,” the official went on to say.

Meanwhile Iceland’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the US Ambassador to Reykjavik to explain why investigators are dredging up the online activity of an Icelandic lawmaker. It’s not clear when the meeting will take place.

Stephens, the WikiLeaks attorney, said government investigators are using the data demands to learn as much as they can about the comings and goings of the targets, as well as their relationship to each other.

“What they will then do is take that data and analyze it in conjunction with data they get from Google, Facebook and the other social media, so that they can ascertain individuals that they feel they want to pay more attention to,” he told Bloomberg. ®

Feds subpoena Twitter for info on WikiLeaks backer

Jan
08

US authorities have subpoenaed Twitter for information about an Icelandic parliamentarian who until recently was a vocal supporter of WikiLeaks and its embattled founder Julian Assange.

Iceland Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir disclosed the legal demand in a series of tweets on the micro blogging site on Friday. The former anarchist was a vocal supporter of the whistle-blower website until recently, when her enthusiasm for Assange cooled following allegations he sexually molested two women during a visit in August to Sweden.

“Just got this: Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account in (relation to wikileaks),” she wrote in one dispatch. “USA government wants to know about all my tweets and more since november 1st 2009. Do they realize i am a member of parliament in iceland?” she quickly added.

She went on to say she is consulting with a lawyer and intends to fight the demand, which came from officials at the Justice Department.

“They are asking for a lot more then [sic] just my tweets,” she said. “I only got 10 days to stop this via legal process or [Twitter] will hand it over.

A Twitter spokeswoman declined to confirm the account, or say whether the service intends to comply.

“To help users protect their rights, it’s our policy to notify users about law enforcement and governmental requests for their information, unless we are prevented by law from doing so,” she said.

The demand makes Twitter the latest company to get embroiled in the US government’s heated campaign against WikiLeaks. Over the past month, a variety of companies – including PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, and Bank of America – have denied services to WikiLeaks following claims by the State Department that the site was engaged in illegal activity.

Charges have yet to be brought.

Jónsdóttir was the chief sponsor of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which was passed in that country’s parliament in June. The measure reformed media laws to make Iceland an international safe haven for journalists.

According to The Telegraph, Jónsdóttir also managed to get Assange into a US Embassy cocktail party at the ambassador’s residence in Reykjavik. During the event, Assange sipped with Sam Watson, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission, whose embarrassing dispatches concerning the US and UK role following the collapse of Iceland’s bank would later be published on the site.

“He certainly had fun at the party,” Jónsdóttir was quoted as saying. “I said it would be a bit of a prank to take him and see if they knew who he was. I don’t think they had any idea.”

According to Wired.com, the subpoena was served on December 14 in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, the same venue of a federal grand jury deciding whether to bring charges against Assange for leaking classified State Department cables.

“I think I am being given a message, almost like someone breathing in a phone,” Jónsdóttir wrote. “If Twitter hands over my information – then no ones information is save [sic] with Twitter.” ®