n a new blow to press freedom and internet users' privacy rights here in the heimat, Obama's Justice Department won a significant victory on Friday. As part of the secret state's campaign against whistleblowers and
transparency advocates, U.S. Magistrate Theresa Buchanan granted federal
prosecutors access to WikiLeaks-related Twitter accounts.
The 20-page ruling
issued in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, upheld
government demands that it be allowed to seize the Twitter accounts of
WikiLeaks supporters Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a leftist member of the
Icelandic parliament, computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum and
Rop Gonggrijp, the cofounder of the Dutch ISP XS4All
Jónsdóttir was specifically targeted for her role in helping WikiLeaks release the Collateral Murder
video last year that exposed the wanton slaughter of a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, including two Reuters photojournalists, by a U.S. military Apache helicopter crew. Two children were also seriously wounded in the unprovoked attack.
The ruling also grants access to the Twitter accounts of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange andBradley Manning
, the imprisoned and tortured
private indicted for "aiding the enemy" over his alleged leak of
incriminating documents that disclosed state crimes, charges which carry
a potential death penalty.
eanwhile, the cyber-guerrilla collective Anonymous
, responsible for the HBGary hack
revealed plans by the Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
to target WikiLeaks and Chamber opponents, "has promised to avenge
Manning, and wage a media war with the U.S. military," The Tech Herald
Buchanan's ruling ordered that the micro-blogging site cough-up
information to the government about what internet and email addresses
are associated with the whistleblowers, as part of an "ongoing
investigation" by a federal grand jury believed to be seeking criminal
charges against WikiLeaks supporters.
The judge rejected arguments by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU
), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF
and private attorneys representing the account holders, dismissing
claims that there were First Amendment issues involved because the
activists "have already made their Twitter posts and associations
In dismissing privacy concerns, Buchanan also ruled that the account
holders had "no Fourth Amendment privacy interest in their IP
addresses," and that federal privacy law did not apply because
prosecutors were not seeking the contents of the communications
themselves, a spurious argument.
Denouncing the ruling, EFF noted in a press release
"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 are also seeking from the court similar orders
issued by the Obama administration to other companies, widely reported
to include Google and Facebook.
When the story first broke,
WikiLeaks demanded that Google and Facebook reveal the contents of
subpoenas they may have received from the government. However both
multibillion firms, chock-a-block with contracts from the secret state
as disclosed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC
) have refused all comment, leading critics to assume they have already complied with orders to hand over the data.
The ACLU's Aden Fine, a staff attorney with the group's Speech,
Privacy and Technology Project said that Buchanan's ruling "gives the
government the ability to secretly amass private information related to
individuals' Internet communications." Decrying the judge's order, Fine
commented: "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."
EFF's Legal Director Cindy Cohn added, "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
Underscoring Cohn's point, EFF
back in August that "a number of documents from the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
highlighted the government's ability to scour not only social networks,
but record each and every corner of the Internet."
Both privacy watchdog groups plan to appeal the ruling.
As Antifascist Calling
last month, the secret state began a criminal investigation of
WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange last July after the secret-spilling
web site began releasing a mountain of classified files on the
imperialist Empire's criminal invasions and occupations ofAfghanistan
That probe was accelerated after WikiLeaks Cablegate
began last November and the group threatened to release compromising
files on a "major American bank," believed to be the Bank of America.
While WikiLeaks hasn't followed up, Zero Hedge
Friday that Anonymous "is claiming to be have emails and documents
which prove 'fraud' was committed by Bank of America employees, and the
group says it'll release them on Monday."
that "Buchanan's order isn't a traditional subpoena. Rather, it's
what's known as a 2703(d) order, which allows police to obtain certain
records from a Web site or Internet provider if they are 'relevant and
material to an ongoing criminal investigation'."
Investigative journalist Declan McCullagh reports that a 2703(d)
order "is broad" and covers "connection records, or records of session
times and durations," and "records of user activity for any connections
made to or from the account," including internet addresses used.
In other words, the order covers "all records" and "correspondence"
relating to the accounts and is also "broad enough to sweep in the
content of messages such as direct messages sent through Twitter or
tweets from a nonpublic account."
According to EFF's Cindy Cohn, the Justice Department narrowed their
request "to avoid asking for content" so as to avoid a federal appeals
court decision that a "a 2703(d) order is insufficient for content data
and a search warrant is necessary." Cohn told CNET "it sure seemed like
the order sought" to sweep up message content as well.
Cohn told Bloomberg News
though Buchanan's order didn't involve content, "the judge downplayed
what can be learned from non-content information that we give to
third-parties all the time."
In February, San Francisco-based attorney John Keker who represents
Jacob Appelbaum, argued in court that "it is incredibly powerful to know
who the opposition is and who they're working with," and that turning
over such information to a grand jury would violate Fourth Amendment
guarantees against warrantless searches and seizures by the national
For their part, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Davis argued in court that the government's request was "routine."
told the court, "this is a standard--as this court knows
well--investigative measure used in criminal investigations every day of
the year all over the country."
As the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers escalates,
prosecutions and threats of the same have focused journalists and
corporate watchdogs in their gunsights.
last week that former National Security Agency official Thomas A.
Drake, charged last year "with unauthorized retention of classified
information about controversial NSA programs, should not be allowed to
argue in court that overclassification is widespread or that he was
engaged in whistleblowing in the public interest."
According to federal prosecutors, while "the defendant may claim
that the current classification system is ineffectual or illegal and
prevents his ability to air allegations of waste, fraud and abuse to the
attention of the public," the secret state is arguing that such
concerns are "irrelevant." Illegal or not, the defendant's "obligation"
was to "protect classified information."
This from an administration that claimed one of its "top priorities" would be to "Protect Whistleblowers"
Glenn Greenwald pointed out last year: "Most of what our Government does of any real significance happens in the dark."
"Whistleblowers are one of the very few avenues we have left for
learning about any of that," Greenwald wrote. "And politicians eager to
preserve their own power and ability to operate in secret--such as
Barack Obama--see whistleblowers as their Top Enemy."
"Hence," the Salon columnist
informed us, "we have a series of aggressive prosecutions from the
Obama administration of Bush era exposures of abuse and illegality--acts
that flagrantly violate Obama's Look Forward, Not Backward decree
used to protect high-level Bush administration criminals." And, I might
add, "high-level criminals" within his own administration.
As the World Socialist Web Site
out last month, "the aim" of the Obama administration "is not only to
extract revenge for WikiLeaks having published thousands of US Embassy
cables detailing Washington's involvement in spying, torture and
assassinations. It is also intended as a warning to any individual or
group that tries to expose the dirty reality of imperialist diplomacy."
With any semblance of public accountability, let alone justice,
closed off by America's capitalist elites, in and outside of government,
whistleblowing web sites like WikiLeaks, Public Intelligence
Anonymous, may very well be the last line of defense we have for
exposing state crimes against what little remains of our democracy.