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Judge OKs feds' access to WikiLeakers Twitter info

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A federal judge in Virginia has given investigators access to the Twitter records of four WikiLeaks associates, including the email addresses associated with the accounts and the IP addresses used to access them.

Friday's decision by US Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan, rejected arguments by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the request for records violated federal law and Free Speech and Privacy rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. She also denied the groups' request to unseal investigators' application seeking the data from Twitter.

“The Twitter Order does not demand the contents of any communication, and thus constitutes only a request for records under §2703(c),” Buchanan wrote, referring to a provision of the 1994 Stored Communications Act that permits the prosecutors to obtain contact details, IP addresses and other information related to records stored online. “The Twitter Order does not demand the contents of any communication, and thus constitutes only a request for records under §2703(c).”

Because the government wasn't seeking the actual content of the WikiLeaks associates' posts, they had no standing to petition the request seeking their records, Buchanan said.

The ruling came in an ongoing criminal investigation the feds are carrying out on Julian Assange and other WikiLeaks supporters. It involves prosecutors' request for the Twitter records of Assange; Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of Iceland's Parliament; Jacob Appelbaum, a US-based WikiLeaks volunteer; Dutch activist Rop Gonggrijp; and Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst who is being held in solitary confinement on suspicion he leaked classified documents to the whistle blower site.

Buchanan rejected arguments made by the ACLU and the EFF that the application to turn over the individuals' Twitter records infringed their First Amendment rights to Free Speech.

“Petitioners, who have already made their Twitter posts and associations publicly available, fail to explain how the Twitter Order has a chilling effect,” she wrote.

She went on to say the request didn't violate the Twitter users' Fourth Amendment rights because they had no reasonable expectation of privacy for information they freely gave to Twitter.

Buchanan also rebuffed a request by the ACLU and EFF to unseal the government's motion to unseal records in the case that could have laid out its legal justification for obtaining the Twitter account information and disclosing ISPs and other websites that may also have been secretly ordered to turn over information related to WikiLeaks supporters.

The feds' dragnet was revealed in January, when Twitter sought permission from the court to notify its users that their information was being sought by investigators.

Attorneys from he ACLU and EFF plan to appeal the ruling.

Legal analysis of Buchanan's order is available here from Eric Goldman's Technology and Marketing Law blog. ®

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