Tom Schoenberg March 13, 2011
WASHINGTON: Three WikiLeaks backers have failed to block US prosecutors from reviewing their Twitter account data in a criminal probe of leaks of classified information.
US magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan yesterday upheld her earlier order requiring Twitter to give investigators data on subscribers ”associated with WikiLeaks”, including the group’s leader, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning, a US soldier charged with leaking classified information.
”Petitioners in this case voluntarily conveyed their IP addresses to the Twitter website, thus exposing the information to a third party administrator, and thereby relinquishing any reasonable expectation of privacy,” the judge said in her ruling.
The litigation over the Twitter data is the first public skirmish in the government’s criminal investigation of Mr Assange and others who may have helped leak diplomatic cables and classified military documents through the WikiLeaks website.
In December, Judge Buchanan ordered Twitter to give the government records and information related to the accounts of several identified individuals and anyone else linked to Mr Assange. Judge Buchanan, whose ruling can be appealed to a district court judge, rejected arguments from the WikiLeaks backers that the government’s request required a search warrant and would allow an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.
She also denied their request to unseal all records in the court file related to prosecutors’ efforts to get information from Twitter and any other companies.
The judge had initially barred the San Francisco-based social networking company from disclosing the government’s demand, which came as part of a federal grand jury investigation in Virginia.
The subscribers whose records are being sought are: Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher who represented WikiLeaks at a 2010 hackers conference in New York; Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic Parliament; and Rop Gonggrijp, described in court papers as a Dutch activist and businessman who helped found the first public internet service provider in the Netherlands.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama said Pentagon officials had assured him that the treatment of Private Manning was ”appropriate” and ”meeting our basic standards”.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley had said that the military had ”mistreated” Private Manning in a way that was ”ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”.
Mr Crowley also reportedly said the soldier ”nonetheless is in the right place” and that there was a ”need for secrets” for diplomacy to be conducted effectively. Mr Crowley is reported to have made his remarks at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology forum. The questioner characterised Private Manning’s maximum-security detention, and a requirement he strip naked at night, as ”torturing a prisoner”.
”We are aware of Mr Crowley’s remarks and have since sent him the facts on PFC Manning’s pre-trial confinement,” said Marine Corps Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. He cited a Defence Department statement that described the confinement at Quantico as complying ”in all respects with US law and Department of Defence regulations”.