Arik Hesseldahl

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Judge Says Feds Can Access WikiLeaks-Related Twitter Accounts

A federal judge will allow investigators to see the Twitter messages of people tied to WikiLeaks. In an opinion issued today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan ruled against a motion that would have kept the U.S. Department of Justice out the Twitter accounts of three people who were allegedly involved in the WikiLeaks affair.

The accounts in question belong to Birgitta Jónsdóttir, an Icelandic lawmaker who assisted with WikiLeaks’ release of a U.S. military video that had been classified; Jacob Applebaum, a WikiLeaks volunteer based in Seattle; and Rop Gonggrijp, a Dutch citizen who is co-founder of the Internet service provider XS4ALL.

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia had filed an order in December seeking IP address and other Twitter account information relating to several users connected to WikiLeaks, including its head, Julian Assange.

Buchanan turned away arguments by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and private attorneys saying that the privacy of their accounts were protected by established federal law and the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment.

Twitter account holders have “no Fourth Amendment privacy interest in their IP addresses,” Buchanan said, and federal privacy law was not relevant because prosecutors weren’t seeking the contents of the communications and, aside from direct messages, their tweets are public already anyway.

Twitter said in a statement that its policy is “designed to allow users to defend their own rights,” and that it will “let the judicial process run its course.” An appeal to a higher court is expected.

This case emerged in January, when Twitter notified several users that federal prosecutors had obtained a court order for their account information.