A year ago this week, it was learned that a US grand jury had secretly issued subpoenas for the Twitter account information of several WikiLeaks supporters.
The subpoenas have been held up by challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but now U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady has ruled that Twitter must provide the data, reasoning that the grand jury investigation is being delayed and that he does not believe the challenge is likely to succeed.
“Litigation of these issues has already denied the government lawful access to potential evidence for more than a year,” O'Grady stated. “The public interest therefore weighs strongly against further delay.”
The subjects of the subpoenas are Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic Parliament; Rop Gonggrijp, a Dutch activist; and Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher who once represented WikiLeaks at a conference. They had argued that the subpoena violates their rights under the First Amendment.
“We’re disappointed with the decision,” ACLU attorney Aden Fine told Mashable. “Before…constitutional rights are infringed, individuals need to have an opportunity to go to court to protect their rights.”
A different judge had ruled last March that the defendants had no standing to challenge the subpoena because the government was not asking for the content of their Twitter accounts. That is the ruling that Judge O'Grady believes is unlikely to be overturned.
The information is being sought under a law which originally provided for government access to telephone billing records and which allows it to demand full contact information for the Twitter account, including all known email addresses, the IP addresses used to access the account, times and durations of connections to the account, and information on data transfers. (Much of this information, of course, is either not relevant to Twitter or not retrievable.)
Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ter-burg/5514113541/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons