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Feds win access to WikiLeakers Twitter account data

No Constitutional violations, judge says

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

US Justice Department investigators have won a hard-fought campaign to access the Twitter records of three current and former WikiLeaks associates, rebuffing arguments that the document demand violated the constitutional right to free speech and a prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In a 60-page opinion issued on Thursday, US District Judge Liam O'Grady in Alexandria, Virginia, upheld the request, which seeks the IP addresses and email addresses associated with the accounts, but not the actual messages conveyed in them or the Twitter users who follow the accounts. The decision upheld a ruling from March by a magistrate judge in the same district court.

Both decisions said a 1994 provision of the Stored Communications Act allowed the investigators to access the information without a warrant because it was relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation. The targeted Twitter account holders – who included Seattle programmer Jacob Appelbaum, Icelandic Parliament member Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Dutch businessman Rop Gonggrijp – renewed their criticism of the demand shortly after O'Grady's decision was released.

“With this decision, the court is telling all users of online tools hosted in the US that the US government will have secret access to their data,” Jonsdottir said in a statement. “People around the world will take note. I am very disappointed in today's ruling because it is a huge backward step for the United States' legacy of freedom of expression and the right to privacy.”

In court briefs submitted to O'Grady, attorneys for the three WikiLeaks supporters argued the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures required the investigators to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before accessing the records. They also said said forcing Twitter to turn over the information trampled on the users' rights to free speech and free expression. O'Grady rejected the arguments.

“The Twitter order did not violate the Constitution,” he wrote.

It's not clear if the targeted WikiLeaks supporters intend to appeal the decision to a higher court.

The ruling comes in the ongoing criminal investigation into whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and other supporters violated US law.

Additional coverage from the Associated Press, CNET News, and Wired.com is here, here, and here. ®

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