Jan 082011
 January 8, 2011  Posted by  Court, Featured News, Online

With all the negative press social media sites receive about privacy, it’s nice to see one stand up for its users’ privacy.  Overnight, Twitter has become something of a hero for fighting a sealed court order to turn over users’ account information to the Department of Justice without notifying its users to give them a chance to fight the order.

For those who were online yesterday and last night, events unfolded rapidly, beginning with a tweet by Icelandic Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir that Twitter had notified her that the Department of Justice had subpoenaed her tweets and personal information:

just got this: Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account in (relation to wikileaks)

Jónsdóttir, a former WikiLeaks volunteer who fell out with Julian Assange after his arrest, also tweeted:

usa government wants to know about all my tweets and more since november 1st 2009. do they realize i am a member of parliament in iceland?

After reaching out to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Jónsdóttir also used Twitter to alert them that she intended to fight the order:

If anyone from @twitter legal is reading – I’d like confirm that I am contesting any subpoenas – I do not consent. My lawyer will call.

But Jónsdóttir was not the only target of the order.  The order also compelled production of account information on  Rop Gonggrijp, the WikiLeaks account, Julian Assange, Pfc Bradley Manning, and Jacob Applebaum.

Applebaum, another WikiLeaks volunteer and a developer of the TOR project who has been hassled by the government in the past on return to this country, tweeted that Twitter is fighting a good fight:

It appears that Twitter’s legal department is fighting a good fight- they had the sealed subpoena unsealed; they disclosed it to @birgittaj

Like Jónsdóttir, Applebaum tweeted that he intended to fight the order:

If anyone from @twitter legal is reading – I’d like confirm that I am contesting any subpoenas – I do not consent. My lawyer will call.

Twitter was reading.

Glenn Greenwald has posted a copy of the previously sealed order on Salon.com (a copy is also up on WikiLeak’s website).  The order, faxed to Twitter on December 14,  compelled production within 3 days without notification to those whose accounts were targeted.  Rather than just complying, Twitter responded and was able to get the court to unseal the order so that they could notify some of those named and to give them 10 days to attempt to quash the subpoena.

WikiLeaks responded to developments, tweeting, in part:

If the Iranian govt asked for DMs of Iranian activists, State Dept would be all over this violation of “Internet freedom”

Under Title 18 § 2703, the Stored Communications Act, communications stored less than 180 days require a warrant to compel production.  The law also specifies what types of information the government can obtain:

(2) A provider of electronic communication service or remote computing service shall disclose to a governmental entity the–
(A) name;
(B) address;
(C) local and long distance telephone connection records, or records of session times and durations;
(D) length of service (including start date) and types of service utilized;
(E) telephone or instrument number or other subscriber number or identity, including any temporarily assigned network address; and
(F) means and source of payment for such service (including any credit card or bank account number), of a subscriber to or customer of such service when the governmental entity uses an administrative subpoena authorized by a Federal or State statute or a Federal or State grand jury or trial subpoena or any means available under paragraph (1).

The order  mirror the language of the statute.

The unsealing order does not mention Julian Assange or Pfc Bradley Manning and it’s not clear whether that means that Twitter could still not notify them or if it simply means that the court had no account names to include.  Whether Manning will fight the order is unknown at this time.

In the meantime, as of three hours ago, the Icelandic Minister of Justice was reportedly involved.  Jónsdóttir tweeted:

Talked with the Icelandic minister of Justice – he is now looking into the case of demands of DoJ wanting my twitter details.

Have Google and other service providers also been served with such orders? And if so, are they fighting to unseal them so that they can notify users?  If they received such orders and chose not to fight, then they would not be able to notify anyone or even acknowledge receiving the order.

In any event, as distressing as these developments are – and they are distressing as it seems like a fishing expedition with a drift net for anyone who might be a WikiLeaks supporter – a huge thumbs up  to Twitter for doing the right thing here.

Update: Rop Gonggrijp has blogged about the DOJ subpoening his Twitter records.  In his post, he reproduces a redacted version of the email he received from Twitter:

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>.


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