The US government forcing twitter to hand over personal data on its users.

Adapted from a RWB article.


The US Department of Justice is so determined to prosecute WikiLeaks and its leading supporters.

“After exerting pressure on Paypal, Visa, MasterCard and Amazon, the US government is now stepping up its harassment of WikiLeaks and its supporters,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“The federal government is trying at all costs to pursue a criminal investigation. This constitutes a serious breach of personal data protection by the Obama administration, which has repeatedly proclaimed its support for online free expression.”

A district court in Alexandria, Virginia, sent Twitter a subpoena signed by federal magistrate Theresa Buchanan on December 14th asking for “relevant” information about users suspected of links with WikiLeaks for an “ongoing criminal investigation.”

The subpoena requests information dating back to November 2009 about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, (the US army private who is being held on suspicion of leaking the US diplomatic cables to Assange); Rop Gonggrijp, (a Dutch citizen who used to work with WikiLeaks); Jacob Appelbaum, (a US computer programmer); and Birgitta Jonsdottir, (a member of the Icelandic parliament and former WikiLeaks volunteer).

Reporters Without Borders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union are calling now on the US government to abandon its attempt to obtain this personal data and to close this investigation for the sake of fundamental constitutional principles.

Mark Stephens, one of Assange’s lawyers, said the subpoena shows how desperate US officials are to pin a crime on Assange.

The range of information requested in the subpoena from Twitter by the Department of Justice is extraordinary! It includes all the records of Tweets and conversations between users, IP addresses, email addresses and postal addresses, and all “means and source of payment” including bank account and credit card details. Access to exchanges between users and the possibility of accounts being jointly managed mean investigators will have the chance to identify new “suspects.”

Judge Theresa Buchanan declared that the ruling did not violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression. “The Twitter Order does not seek to control or direct the content of petitioners’ speech or association,” she said.

However, Reporters Without Borders hails Twitter’s decision to notify the users who are the target of the investigation.

The authorities initially ordered Twitter to say nothing about the court order but after what appears to have been a legal battle, the microblogging service obtained the court’s permission on 5 January to notify the targeted users.

In an email to the users who are being investigated, Twitter said it would have to surrender the requested records within 10 days unless it received notice that a legal motion had been filed to block the court order.

WikiLeaks thinks similar subpoenas may have been sent to Facebook and Google, which have not yet issued any statement.

We need to note in this context that at the time of writing this post the WikiLeaks Facebook page has more than 1.7 million “fans” while its Twitter account has more than 868,206 followers and growing. 


9 comments

  • […] about users suspected of links with WikiLeaks for an “ongoing criminal investigation. … read more See more stories on Google: read […]

  • AnotherAnother

    No matter what RWB argues the US government has a right to instigate an investigation into the leaking of documents to Wikileaks. From reading the original request filed, there was no request for “the possibility of accounts being jointly managed mean investigators will have the chance to identify new “suspects.”” RWB and Mark Stephens should just stick to the facts.

  • To me it’s a tough situation, at the one hand we have wikileaks who is publishing millions of classified documents (revealed information that are influencing countries foreign policies etc) and at the other hand the US department of Justice is taking by force classified personal data of millions of users in their investigations.

    I think you’re right but also as I’m supporting wikileaks, I’m not totally comfortable with the personal data that the justice department is collecting!

  • […] 2005 [leaked by Wikileaks], Owen himself seemed to favor an interpretation sugg more… The US government forcing twitter to hand over personal data on its users. – Global Voices Onl… – advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org 04/22/2011 Global Voices OnlineThe US government forcing […]

  • Stephen Perrett

    Personal privacy is a fundamental part of democracy. When people vote in democratic elections, they vote anonymously. Because election candidates do not know who votes for who, people cannot be intimidated to vote in any particular way. I think democratic privacy extends to people following someone on twitter. People use pseudonyms to hide their identity so that they cannot be intimidated for holding certain views or allegiances. No government should be given the power to demand the information such as IP addresses that is necessary to uncover the true identities of specific twitter users. In terms of free speech, such power is intimidating and clearly undemocratic!

    • Yes Stephen, we all know that the US government (among others) are spying over the phone calls and violating personal freedoms and its the same thing when they force twitter to hand over all record of tweets and the IP addresses etc!

  • […] The US government forcing twitter to hand over personal data on its users. – Global Voices Adv…. […]

  • […] meanwhile that it was illegal to tweet or FB-post election results. Meanwhile, the US government subpoenaed Twitter for “relevant” information about users suspected of links with WikiLeaks for an “ongoing […]

  • […] announced that it was illegal to tweet or FB-post election results. Meanwhile, the US government subpoenaed Twitter for “relevant” information about users suspected of links with WikiLeaks for an “ongoing […]

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