US Court Rules Against Privacy and Grants DOJ Access to WikiLeaks Twitter Accounts

A federal judge ruled on Friday that the US government could access WikiLeaks-related Twitter accounts, including those of foreign politicians. This ruling is a result of a months-long battle over Twitter between online privacy advocates and the US Department of Justice.

Friday’s ruling will allow the DoJ broad access to the Twitter accounts and confidential information – such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and ISP numbers – related to the accounts of several key Twitter users suspected of dealing with WikiLeaks and its leader, Julian Assange.

The DoJ had issued a subpoena to Twitter in mid-December 2010, demanding private information about several users connected to WikiLeaks. Twitter effectively lobbied to unseal the subpoena, and informed those users targeted that their information would have to be handed over to the US government.

Some of these Twitter users, including an Icelandic Member of Parliament, decided to fight the subpoena themselves.

The case was brought before US Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan by several advocacy groups representing some of the users named in the initial subpoena. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued that the government’s subpoena violated the Twitter users’ rights to privacy, including the First and Fourth Amendments.

However, CNET reports that:

“Buchanan rejected each of the arguments in quick succession, saying that there was no First Amendment issue because activists “have already made their Twitter posts and associations publicly available.” The account holders have “no Fourth Amendment privacy interest in their IP addresses,” she said, and federal privacy law did not apply because prosecutors were not seeking contents of the communications.”

While most of the case was unsuccessful, the Twitter users were able to unseal much of the documents related to their case, as they had been kept from public view at the request of the US government.

This ruling has deep implications for online privacy, and the reasonable expectation that private communication will be kept private. CNET reports that the EFF will be appealing the ruling.