The U.S. government has continued its assault on WikiLeaks by sending Twitter a sub-poena demanding reams of information about Julian Assange and several other WikiLeaks-related folks, including Bradley Manning.
The sub-poena demanded EVERYTHING: phone numbers, email addresses, banking info, accounts, etc. It also ordered Twitter to produce the information without telling anyone.
To its credit, Twitter challenged the secrecy demand in court and won. It has since notified the Twitter users that the US government is targeting.
The US government’s attack on WikiLeaks seems misguided, vindictive, and silly: All WikiLeaks has done is embarrass the government by revealing information that the government didn’t want revealed. That’s what journalists do all day long, so it’s not clear what WikiLeaks has done to justify such a full-scale attack (other than, again, embarrassing the government).
Given that the government IS going after WikiLeaks, however, this sub-poena is fair game, as is the request that Twitter keep it secret. Unless Twitter wants to fall back on some sort of journalistic privilege (which would be a huge leap), it’s no different than a phone company. When the government is conducting a criminal investigation, the government has the right to demand private records from private companies like Twitter).
(If the government were pursuing terrorists, or some other organisation that is less sympathetic than WikiLeaks, most people would certainly support its move. So it’s important to separate the government’s actions in this particular case–an arguably vindictive attack on WikiLeaks–from its broader right to demand records from private companies.)
It was also certainly fair for Twitter to challenge the government’s secrecy demand in court. This was an admirable move–putting its users first–and it will win the company plaudits from those who view the government’s actions in this particular case as the work of self-interested jack-booted thugs.
To be clear: Twitter will still have to turn over the requested information, which may or may not include the names and information of those who FOLLOW Julian Assange et al on Twitter (read the subpoena below and form your own conclusion. It’s not clear to us whether that’s covered or not).
Here’s the government subpoena:
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