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DoJ Orders Twitter to Hand Over Wikileaks Follower Info

It was a paranoid weekend for some Twitter users when it was revealed that the popular micro-blogging site received a court order from the U.S. Department of Justice to turn over information related to followers of the @WikiLeaks account.

From the @WikiLeaks Twitter stream:

WARNING all 637,000 @wikileaksfollowers are a target of US gov subpoena against Twitter, under section 2. B

The order requires Twitter to provide information on specific users, such as IP addresses, physical addresses, and banking information. So far, only a handful of users have been acknowledged as targets of the probe, including Icelandic Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir and Dutch programmer Rop Gonggrijp. Forbes is reporting that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and other supporters are targets of the DoJ order as well.

Filed December 14th by the DoJ, the order was initially sealed by the court, meaning that Twitter was prevented from informing the users in question that their information was being sought. However, a document dated January 5th allowed Twitter to make the information known to affected users, presumably the outcome of a request made by the micro-blogging provider. (Original order here and unsealing document, courtesy of Salon.)

Emails dated January 7th from informed users that Twitter will respond to the DoJ request within 10 days unless users indicate their intent to fight the order. While Twitter carefully stated that it is not offering legal advice to its users, it does provide the contact information for the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation as resources. From Gonggrijp’s blog:

Kessel, Jan-07 11:20 am (PST):

Dear Twitter User:

We are writing to inform you that Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account, @rop_g. A copy of the legal process is attached. The legal process requires Twitter to produce documents related to your account.

Please be advised that Twitter will respond to this request in 10 days from the date of this notice unless we receive notice from you that a motion to quash the legal process has been filed or that this matter has been otherwise resolved.

To respond to this notice, please e-mail us at <removed>.

This notice is not legal advice. You may wish to consult legal counsel about this matter. If you need assistance seeking counsel, you may consider contacting the Electronic Frontier Foundation <contact info removed> or the ACLU <contact info removed>.

Sincerely,

Twitter Legal

While the DoJ documents do mention “an ongoing criminal investigation,” the actual scope of the case remains unknown. Salon suggests that this order could be related to the “Collateral Murder” video, which showed U.S. helicopters attacking a group in Iraq that included a reporter.

For her part, Jonsdottir has expressed outrage over he involvement in the investigation. This past Friday she tweeted, “do they [the U.S. Government] realize i am a member of parliament in iceland?”

The spat between Jonsdottir and the DoJ should be an interesting one to watch. Jonsdottir was a champion of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a plan to set up Iceland as a sort of “international transparency haven” for whistleblowers in the wake of that country’s financial collapse. Wikileaks is named as a guiding force for the creation of the initiatives. Though these measures have been passed in Iceland it’s unclear whether they will come in to play in this case, tempering the urge to see this as the opening salvo of Iceland’s first test as an information haven.

But as long as everything surrounding Wikileaks continues to be a trainwreck from which we cannot look away, it’s certain this story is far from over.

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