The US Justice Department appeared in an Alexandria Federal Court yesterday to defend demands for the Twitter records of three associates of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Lawyers said the demand was a standard procedure and necessary to the investigation into Wikileaks’ release of throusands of diplomatic cables online. The department is seeking the records of Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir, Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp and US computer programmer Jacob Appelbaum.
But lawyers for the three say that the demand is unconsitutional.
“Like many elected officials, our client uses Twitter and other online tools to communicate with her constituents and express her political views. The government shouldn’t be trying to find out about her communications unless they can withstand serious First Amendment scrutiny, and the government hasn’t done that here,” said Aden Fine, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
The ACLU, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing Jonsdottir.
“The government’s request is especially troubling because it seeks information about all statements made by our client, not just speech about the subject of the government’s investigation,” Fine added.
Making the ACLU’s job rather more difficult is the fact that the government has been successful in persuading the court to seal the records relating to the original request to Twitter for its user records. Indeed, the request was only made public when Twitter successfully applied for permission to alert the three that their records had been requested.
“Except in truly extraordinary circumstances, internet users should receive notice and an opportunity to go to court to defend their constitutional rights before their privacy is compromised,” said Fine. “That’s what is happening now, thanks to Twitter’s efforts.”
The judge is expected to release a written order soon.