Alexandria, VA - A federal magistrate judge in Virginia ruled today that the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to WikiLeaks, and that those users and the public can be prevented from seeing some of the documents that the government submitted to the court to justify obtaining their records. The court denied the government's request to conduct last month's hearing about the records in secret, however, and the court made public all of the documents related to the users' legal challenge. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union plan to appeal the decision on behalf of their client Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian.
The secret government demands for information about the subscribers' communications came to light only because Twitter took steps to ensure their customers were notified and had the opportunity to respond. The ACLU and EFF also asked the court to make public any similar orders to any other companies.
"This ruling gives the government the ability to secretly amass private information related to individuals' Internet communications. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the government should not be able to obtain this information in secret. That's not how our system works," said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "If this ruling stands, our client may be prevented from challenging the government's requests to other companies because she might never know if and how many other companies have been ordered to turn over information about her."
"With so much of our digital private information being held by third parties – whether in the cloud or on social networking sites like Twitter – the government can track your every move and statement without you ever having a chance to protect yourself," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "We're disappointed that the court did not recognize that people using digital tools deserve basic privacy and that the government should be required to meet a high standard before it demands private information about you from the online services you use, be they Twitter, Facebook, Gmail or Skype."
EFF and the ACLU plan to appeal the ruling on behalf of their client.
For today's ruling:
For more on this case:
Media Relations Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
American Civil Liberties Union