Alexandria, VA - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today appealed a ruling that the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to WikiLeaks. The ruling further held that the users cannot learn which other Internet companies were ordered to turn over information about them to the government. EFF and the ACLU are challenging the ruling on behalf of Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian who is appealing jointly with fellow Twitter users Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp.
The secret government demands for information about the subscribers' communications came to light only because Twitter took steps to ensure its customers were notified and had the opportunity to respond. The ACLU and EFF have also asked the court to make public any similar orders to any other companies.
"Except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals' private Internet communications in secret. This is not one of those circumstances," said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "If the ruling is allowed to stand, our client might never know how many other companies have been ordered to turn over information about her, and she may never be able to challenge the invasive requests."
"Services like Twitter have information that can be used to track us and link our communications across multiple services including Facebook and Gmail," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "The Magistrate's ruling that users have no ability to protect that information from the U.S. government is especially troubling."
The ruling was issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan of the Eastern District of Virginia. It is being appealed to a U.S. District Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Attorneys for Jonsdottir are Fine and Benjamin Siracusa Hillman 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.
Read the brief (March 25, 2011)