Government issues secret orders to get WikiLeaks email data

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The US government used a secret court order to obtain information on the email accounts of WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The court orders were apparently issued to Google and small ISP Sonic, which says it fought and lost.

Appelbaum hasn't been charged with any offense. But, says the WSJ, the government wanted to see the list of people he'd corresponded with by email over the last two years.

The orders against Google and Sonic called on the companies to hand over the IP address from which Appelbaum logged into his Gmail.com account, along with the email and IP addresses of the people he corresponded with. It's not known if Google complied without protest.

Earlier this year, Twitter was ordered to hand over information on the accounts of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and several other Wikileaks members, including Appelbaum.

The orders were made under the 1989 Electronic Communications Privacy Act - which is older than the web itself, as the American Civil Liberties Union points out. It's calling for the act to be overhauled.

"We are all increasingly living our lives online–learning, sharing, connecting and shopping – and we need an updated ECPA that keeps up with this modern online world," it says.

"Americans expect and desire that their private online activities will remain private from the government, and they need laws that will protect that privacy."

As things stand, it's possible for law enforcement to obtain electronic records more easily than physical ones, needing only to show 'reasonable grounds' that they'd be 'relevant and material'.