DOJ Secretly Subpoenas Private Twitter Information On Suspected WikiLeaks Associates

Tyler Durden's picture

The DOJ, instead of pursuing actual threats to so-called justice, such as, among other, the fact that the entire US mortgage industry is based on churn-predicated fraud, that Goldman Sachs is an undisputed monopolist in the OTC market, and that JP Morgan uses its cartel power and FRBNY affiliation to control the commodity market, has decided to instead go after private user information on Twitter of all places. And while the excuse is that this is merely another expansion in the ongoing probe against that uber-terrorist organization Wikileaks (which as Salon's Glenn Greenwald points out is "doing nothing more than publishing classified information
showing what the U.S. Government is doing:  something investigative
journalists, by definition, do all the time") it may have actually crossed the line by subpoenaning private data from an Icelandic member of parliament, Birgitta Jonsdottir, a one-time associate of Julian Assange. Furthermore, it appears that Twitter may be just one of many services which have received the DOJ subpoena (Wikileaks suspects that Google and Facebook are two other sites that may have received a Wikileaks-related subpoena but have so far not disclosed it), but is the only one which requested that the original order be unsealed. Most importantly, the question of just who Eric Holder consider a potential "threat" is completely unclear, which means that pretty much anyone can be the subject of complete disclosure of data previously considered private.One thing is certain: if anyone has ever donated to Wikileaks via Paypal or otherwise, they are now likely a target.

The Guardian was on the case first, describing how Birgitta Jonsdottir learned that was the target of a DOJ subpoena:

A member of parliament in Iceland who is also a former WikiLeaks volunteer says the US justice department has ordered Twitter to hand over her private messages.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, an MP for the Movement in Iceland, said last night on Twitter that the "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?"

She said she was starting a legal fight to stop the US getting hold of her messages, after being told by Twitter that a subpoena had been issued. She wrote: "department of justice are requesting twitter to provide the info – I got 10 days to stop it via legal process before twitter hands it over."
...
Twitter would not comment on the case. In a statement, the company said: "We're not going to comment on specific requests, but, 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."

Most of Twitter's messages are public, but users can also send private messages on the service.

Why is Jonsdottir being investigated:

Jonsdottir was involved in WikiLeaks' release last year of a video which showed a US military helicopter shooting two Reuters reporters in Iraq. US authorities believe the video was leaked by Private Bradley Manning.

Adrian Lamo, the hacker who reported Manning to the authorities, indicated that Manning first contacted WikiLeaks in late November 2009 – a period covered by the request for Jonsdottir's tweet history.

In 2009 Jonsdottir invited Assange to a party at the US embassy in Reykjavik where he chatted with the ambassador to Iceland. WikiLeaks had recently published a secret report on the collapse of the country's banks.

"I said it would be a bit of a prank to take him and see if they knew who he was. I don't think they had any idea," Jonsdottir said last year.

However, as could be expected in what is now becoming an all out McCarthyist witch hunt, the circle of potential investigation targets is virtually unlimited:

Marc Rotenberg, president of the online watchdog the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) in Washington, said it appeared the US justice department was looking at building a case against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, over its publication of secret US documents.

EPIC has already requested that the US authorities hand over information about their investigations into people who have donated to WikiLeaks via Mastercard, Visa or PayPal.

"The government has the right to get information, but that has to be done in a lawful way. Is there a lawful prosecution that could be brought against WikiLeaks? It seems unlikely to me. But it's a huge question here in the US," said Rotenberg.

Glenn Greenwald provides more information on what is being sought by the DOJ:

The information demanded by the DOJ is sweeping in scope.  It includes
all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all
connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access
Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the "means and source of
payment," including banking records and credit cards.  It seeks all of
that information for the period beginning November 1, 2009, through the
present.  A copy of the Order served on Twitter, obtained exclusively by
Salon, is here.

It also appears that this latest escalation in the Wikileaks investigation has been going on for a while and that the Judge who served the orders gave specific instructions that services such as Twitter do not disclose the information to the subject of the witch-hunt. It is only a fluke that Twitter resisted and demanded to at least advise user of what is going on:

The Order was signed by a federal Magistrate Judge in the Eastern
District of Virginia, Theresa Buchanan, and served on Twitter by the DOJ
division for that district.  It states that there is "reasonable ground
to believe that the records or other information sought are relevant
and material to an ongoing criminal investigation," the language
required by the relevant statute.  It was issued on December 14 and ordered sealed -- i.e.,
kept secret from the targets of the Order.  It gave Twitter three days
to respond and barred the company from notifying anyone, including the
users, of the existence of the Order.  On January 5, the same judge
directed that the Order be unsealed at Twitter's request in order to
inform the users and give them 10 days to object; had Twitter not so
requested, it would have been compelled to turn over this information
without the knowledge of its users.  A copy of the unsealing order is here.

Lastly, as noted previously, it is very possible that the DOJ is canvassing private information from far more services than just Twitter. And since the DOJ can use any excuse to find an "affiliation" between anyone and soon to be persona non grata #1, Julian Assange, nobody's private internet data is safe any longer. On the other hand, ever since Goldman, which de facto is the government, has a direct and very private look at Facebook's entire database, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Again Greenwald summarizes it best:

And the key question now is this:  did other Internet and social network
companies (Google, Facebook, etc.) receive similar Orders and then
quietly comply?  It's difficult to imagine why the DOJ would want
information only from Twitter; if anything, given the limited
information it has about users, Twitter would seem one of the least
fruitful avenues to pursue.  But if other companies did receive and
quietly comply with these orders, it will be a long time before we know,
if we ever do, given the prohibition in these orders on disclosing even
its existence to anyone.

One thing is guaranteed: the DOJ, instead of actually going after real crimes, is using its vast power to go after the very core premise behind the idea of investigative journalism. After all, who will care about the real crimes perpetrated behind the scenes when the government makes a special-effects filled motion picture about a fake crime involving the 21st century's biggest "witch" spoon-fed to the peasantry on every single TV channel in 24/7, and soon in glorious 3D (using passive shutter glasses sold at Best Buy on one year layaway of course).