Social Media Under The Gavel When WikiLeaks' Twitter DMs Were Demanded


Once again the popular microblogging site of Twitter is caught at the vortex of a political maelstrom where human rights are at issue. Differing from the Iranian election protests of 2009, this time the U.S. is appearing to be the heavy-handed oppressor. On December 14, the government's Department of Justice issued a court order to Twitter to the attention of its "Trust & Safety" department.

The order was accompanied by the above FAX cover sheet sent by Vivian Ha, assistant to Tracy McCormick, the Assistant United States Attorney. A subsequent order was unsealed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan which gave the social networking site three days to comply.

According to the order, Twitter is to turn over information pertaining to the accounts of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Julian AssangeJulian AssangeArmy private charged with first leaking classified information, WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum, Dutch hacker and XS4ALL Internet provider co-founder Rop Gonggrjp, Iceland Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir and of course WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange, who is currently be held in prison for Swedish sex crime allegations.

The 2703(d) order covers "subscriber account information" for all parties and is broad enough to sweep in the content of DMs (direct messages) which are private messages only intended to be read by the recipient. This is a gray area since WikiLeak account holders and Bradly Manning could fight the order based on precedents that it's unconstitutional. According to a report filed by CNET report, one federal appeals court recently ruled that under the Fourth Amendment, a 2703(d) order is insufficient in being able to secure such private communications.

A Twitter representative declined to comment on any specific legal requests, but told CNET: "To help users protect their rights, it's our policy to notify users about law enforcement and governmental requests for their information, unless we are prevented by law from doing so."

Buchanan's original order from last month directed Twitter not to disclose "the existence of the investigation" to anyone, but that gag order was lifted this week, since Twitter's law enforcement guidelines state "our policy is to notify users of requests for their information prior to disclosure."

According to a Mashable report, correspondent Jolie O'Dell notes that Google and other social media services all have similar guidelines and that she'd "be shocked if Twitter was the only company that got WikiLeaks-related court orders to surrender information," and she believes others beyond Twitter have much more sensitive data to disclose on Assange and WikiLeaks.

So, readers, is the U.S. too heavy-handed in pushing for these types of court orders and is what they are demanding unconstitutional? Or is there enough evidence to support their case that Assange et al are security threats to the U.S. and are within their rights to take these extreme measures? And if so, will this case set a precedent for other users' personal DM's to be able to be subpoenaing in court should they run afoul of the law at a future date?

For additional content relating to Assange and WikiLeaks' social media relationships, check out my previous blog postings here: