San Francisco - A district court judge in Virginia ruled against online privacy today, allowing U.S federal investigators to collect private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to Wikileaks. The judge also blocked the users' attempt to discover whether other Internet companies have been ordered to turn their data over to the government.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represent Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir in this case. Jonsdottir has appealed an earlier ruling with fellow Twitter users Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp.
"With this decision, the court is telling all users of online tools hosted in the U.S. that the U.S. government will have secret access to their data," said Jonsdottir. "People around the world will take note, and since they can easily move their data to companies who host it in locations that better protect their privacy than the U.S. does, I expect that many will do so. I am very disappointed in today's ruling because it is a huge backward step for the United States' legacy of freedom of expression and the right to privacy."
In this case, Jonsdottir and others only found out about the government requests for information because Twitter took steps to notify them of the court order. EFF is urging other companies to follow Twitter's lead, stand with their customers, and promise to inform users when their data is sought by the government, as part of our Who Has Your Back? campaign.
"When you use the Internet, you entrust your online conversations, thoughts, experiences, locations, photos, and more to dozens of companies who host or transfer your data," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "In light of that technological reality, we are gravely worried by the court's conclusion that records about you that are collected by Internet services like Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Google are fair game for warrantless searches by the government."
Attorneys for Jonsdottir are Aden Fine of the ACLU, Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia, and Cindy Cohn, Lee Tien, Marcia Hofmann and Kevin Bankston of EFF. The motions were joined by attorneys from the law firm Keker & Van Nest LLP and the Law Office of John D. Cline on behalf of Appelbaum and Gonggrijp, respectively, as well as local counsel in Virginia. Jonsdottir, Appelbaum, and Gonggrijp are still reviewing the order and considering possible next steps.
For the judge's full order:
For Who Has Your Back?:
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Electronic Frontier Foundation