WikiLeaks orders websites to 'unseal subpoenas' from US court
Published 09/01/2011 | 05:00
WikiLeaks yesterday demanded that Google and Facebook "unseal [any US court] subpoenas they have received" after it emerged that a court in Virginia had secretly ordered Twitter to hand over the details of accounts of five people associated with the group, including Julian Assange.
Amid strong evidence that a US grand jury has begun a wide-ranging trawl for information relating to possible networks and accounts WikiLeaks used to communicate with Bradley Manning -- the US serviceman accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of sensitive government cables -- some of those named in the Virginia subpoena said they would fight disclosure.
"Today, the existence of a secret US government grand jury espionage investigation into WikiLeaks was confirmed for the first time as a subpoena was brought into the public domain," WikiLeaks said in a statement.
Condemning the court order, Mr Assange said: "If the Iranian government was to attempt to coercively obtain this information from journalists and activists of foreign nations, human rights groups around the world would speak out."
The writ, approved by a court in Virginia in December, demands that Twitter hand over all details of accounts and private messaging of five individuals on the San Franscisco-based microblogging site -- including the computers and networks they used.
Those include WikiLeaks founder Mr Assange, Mr Manning, Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir and Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp.
Mr Gonggrijp, Mr Assange and Mr Jonsdottir were named as "producers" of the first significant leak from the US cables cache, a video of an Apache helicopter attack that killed civilians and journalists in Baghdad. The legal document also targets an account held by Jacob Appelbaum, a US computer programmer whose computer and phones were examined by US officials in July after he was stopped on his return from Holland to the US.
The court issuing the subpoena said it believed there were "reasonable grounds" to believe Twitter held information "relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation". It also ordered Twitter not to notify the targets of the subpoena, a ruling that the company successfully challenged.
The order demands that Twitter hand over details of source and destination internet protocol addresses used to access the accounts, which would help investigators identify how the named individuals communicated with each other, as well as email addresses used.
The US attorney general, Eric Holder, has said that he believed Mr Assange could be prosecuted under the US Espionage Act. The court that issued the subpoena is in the same jurisdiction where press reports have located a grand jury investigating Mr Assange. It has also been reported that Mr Manning has been offered a plea bargain if he co-operates with the investigation.
WikiLeaks sources said the court order amounted to harassment. "I think I am being given a message, almost like someone breathing in a phone," Mr Jonsdottir said in a Twitter message.
Twitter has declined to comment, saying only that its policy is to notify its users, where possible, of government requests for information.