Sunday, 9 January 2011
U.S. officials are demanding the details of WikiLeaks' Twitter account, according to court documents obtained Saturday, a sign of the scope of the case the American government is trying to build against the secret-spilling website. The Twitter activity of other alleged WikiLeaks associates has also been requested by U.S. investigators, while the site's founder, Julian Assange, said he believed other American Internet companies may have been ordered to hand over information about his online activities.
Assange blasted the moves, saying they amounted to harassment.
"If the Iranian government was to attempt to coercively obtain this information from journalists and activists of foreign nations, human rights groups around the world would speak out," he said in a statement.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has ordered Twitter Inc. has been ordered to hand over private messages, billing information, telephone numbers and connection records of accounts run by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and others - including Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army intelligence analyst suspected of supplying the site with classified information, and Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian and one-time WikiLeaks collaborator.
The subpoena, dated Dec. 14, is for information dating back to November 1, 2009.
It was not immediately clear how the data bring requested would be useful to investigators, but Twitter's logs could reveal the Internet addresses that Assange and WikiLeaks supporters have been using, which could help track their locations as they had traveled the world. The information also might identify others with official access to WikiLeaks' account on Twitter who so far have escaped scrutiny.
While order targeting Twitter is almost certainly a minor part of the government's investigation, it is significant because it confirms the wide-ranging nature of the case. WikiLeaks and its supporters say that other organizations, such as Facebook Inc. and Google Inc., had likely been served with similar orders.
Neither company immediately returned messages seeking comment Saturday.
In Washington, the U.S. government volunteered little new information Saturday about its ongoing criminal investigation against Assange and WikiLeaks after news of its subpoena leaked. Under rules governing grand jury investigations - in which U.S. prosecutors present evidence and testimony to selected private citizens behind closed doors to seek their approval to formally file charges - government lawyers are not allowed to discuss the case until charges are announced publicly.
A copy of the subpoena, sent to The Associated Press by Jonsdottir, said only that the information sought was "relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation" and ordered Twitter not to disclose its existence to Assange or any of the others targeted.
But a second document, dated Jan. 5, unsealed the court order. Although the reason wasn't made explicit, WikiLeaks said it had been unsealed "thanks to legal action by Twitter."