Alexandria, VA – A federal judge in Alexandria ruled today that the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation into WikiLeaks, the controversial whistleblower website that has released thousands of pages of unpublished government documents in recent years.
The court also refused to unseal or publicly list all orders and other court documents relating to the parties in the case, including orders that may have been sent to other companies besides Twitter.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation represent Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian and one of the Twitter users whose records were sought by the government when it launched an investigation in Wikileaks.
U.S. District Court Judge Liam O’Grady wrote in his opinion that “the information sought was clearly material to establishing key facts related to an ongoing investigation and would have assisted a grand jury in conducting an inquiry into the particular matters under investigation.”
The judge ruled that Twitter users “voluntarily” turned over the Internet protocol addresses when they signed up for their accounts and at that point relinquished an expectation of privacy.
“Internet users don’t automatically give up their rights to privacy and free speech when they use services like Twitter,” said Aden Fine, staff attorney for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “The government shouldn’t be able to get this kind of private information without a warrant, and they certainly shouldn’t be able to do so in secret. An open court system is a fundamental part of our democracy, and the very existence of court documents should not be hidden from the public.”
Today’s decision was an appeal of rulings made by a magistrate judge.
"With this decision, the court is telling all users of online tools hosted in the U.S. that the U.S. government will have secret access to their data,” said Jonsdottir. " People around the world will take note, and since they can easily move their data to companies who host it in locations that better protect their privacy than the U.S. does, I expect that many will do so. I am very disappointed in today's ruling because it is a huge backward step for the United States’ legacy of freedom of expression and the right to privacy."
Today’s ruling and other information about the case are available online at: www.aclu.org/free-speech/twitter-wikileaks-court-order
Contact: National ACLU, (212) 549-2666; firstname.lastname@example.org