Saturday, January 08, 2011

DOJ demands records of Wikileaks volunteers' Twitter accounts

In a disturbing and potentially game-changing development on the Wikileaks front, the United States Department of Justice has served a subpoena on the wildly popular microblogging website Twitter. Specifically, they want all manner of personal information about various Twitter users connected to the online whistleblower organization, Wikileaks, which group of notable activists, writers, and even government figures includes a member of Iceland's parliament.

On Friday, Glenn Greenwald reported (emphasis mine):

Last night, Birgitta Jónsdóttir -- a former WikiLeaks volunteer and current member of the Icelandic Parliament -- announced (on Twitter) that she had been notified by Twitter that the DOJ had served a Subpoena demanding information "about all my tweets and more since November 1st 2009." Several news outlets, including The Guardian, wrote about Jónsdóttir's announcement.

What hasn't been reported is that the Subpoena served on Twitter -- which is actually an Order from a federal court that the DOJ requested -- seeks the same information for numerous other individuals currently or formerly associated with WikiLeaks, including Jacob Appelbaum, Rop Gonggrijp, and Julian Assange. It also seeks the same information for Bradley Manning and for WikiLeaks' Twitter account.

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.

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.

Greenwald is in close contact with Jónsdóttir, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee (of Iceland's Parliament) and the NATO parliamentary assembly--if you follow Glenn on Twitter, you can also follow their correspondence, it's all out in the open, ahem. She informed him that she intends to meet with other Iceland leaders and plans to protest the subpoena.

Icelandic Interior Minister Ögmundur Jónasson, in the Iceland Review Online, called the matter "very odd and grave", and while he is waiting to speak with Jónsdóttir before going into more detail, he said:

“Of course it is a very serious matter, if a demand has been put forward that she submit personal information to US authrities. She is an Icelandic member of Althingi and furthermore a member of the Foreign Relations committee of Althingi.”

Jónasson continued: “The information from Wikileaks and others have only hurt people who work behind the scenes. I think that if we manage to make government transparent and give all of us some insight into what is happening in countries involved in warfare it can only be for the good.”

Well, yes. Many, many of us share that very sentiment: If we manage to make government transparent and give all of us some insight into what is happening in countries involved in warfare it can only be for the good.

Yet saying this--and meaning it, and living by it--will earn you all sorts of opprobium. It seems our country is more comfortable with a presidential candidate who repeatedly promises that his leadership will be all about unparalleled transparency but who, unbeknown to us, actually has his fingers crossed behind his back while doing so. (When they take the oath of office, and they swear to uphold and defend the United States Constitution, do you suppose they cross their fingers ever-so-slightly then, too?)

Finally, I'd like to call your attention to one of the comments at the Salon article, by reader Kitty Antonik Wakfer, who points to an excellent way for citizens to protest abuses like this via peaceful, effective means:

Withdraw voluntary association with harm-doers and their enablers/supporters

So there is actually a subpoena - and one that was signed by federal Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan in the Eastern District of Virginia!

Judge Buchanan has been very cooperative since at least early 2002 with the government's "war on terror" by sealing affidavits submitted in support of terrorism-related search warrants. An attempt to challenge her actions met with a US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that "will encourage judges to seal more search-warrant materials and offer fewer reasons for doing so."

Judge Buchanan is described in an online account of the trial of Steve Wooford, a local Virginia anti-war activist who was convicted and sentenced by her in March 2003 to 6 months in prison for throwing blood on the Pentagon building's door and walls. Stated in this article to be a relative of conservative pundit Pat Buchanan, she sounds like just the type that the Department of Justice [sic] will continue to make much use of.

Only image I find of her online so far Maybe others have found something more identifiable so that voluntary association with her can be withdrawn by those who do not approve of her actions.

But the real key is the enforcers of her subpoena since she would never get out in the field and threaten or actually initiate force on Twitter personnel herself in order to compel them to turn over records. So I urge Twitter staff/mngt to photo/video the enforcers who come to their offices and do the threatening of and/or initiation of actual physical force. Let everyone see who they are and supply names so that the same negative Social Preferencing towards them can take place.

This selective (discriminating) association to exclude those who cause harm - and it is the enforcers who do the harm - is a potentially *very* powerful method of non-violent action, referred to as ostracism by many down through the ages. It is included in Gene Sharp's 2nd volume (of 3), "The Politics of Nonviolent Action", Chapter 4, "The Methods of Social Noncooperation".

Make it undesirable to be a government enforcer or to "support them", which has become mostly support of restrictions on voluntary mutually beneficial exchanges - in this case support of WikiLeaks. When the large numbers of enforcers begin to be uncomfortable with being Socially Preferenced against - avoided, shunned, ostracized - many will cease being government enforcers and the most of the rest will likely stick to arresting physical harm-doers. Additionally, those considering government enforcement "careers" will not see that position as so desirable. And that is the very point!

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