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Leaks trio sweat on order to release Twitter accounts

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday February 17, 2011

Simon Mann HERALD CORRESPONDENT

WASHINGTON: A US magistrate judge has reserved her decision on whether the social media group Twitter must hand over the personal details of three account-holders being targeted in the US government's investigation of WikiLeaks.At the same time, the judge will consider a defence request that details of the government's investigation, submitted in secret to the court, be unsealed.The deliberation by Judge Theresa Buchanan follows a brief hearing on Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, in which she was asked to rescind her earlier court order demanding release of the information.Civil liberties groups took on investigators looking into the WikiLeaks controversy, in which tens of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables and classified defence material were published by the website.In December, Judge Buchanan ordered Twitter to hand over to investigators information related to the accounts of several named individuals and anyone else linked to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains in London fighting extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape.A subpoena demanded subscriber names, contact information, billing records, user activity, internet protocol addresses and source and destination email addresses.The case offers the most public glimpse yet of the government's investigation, launched in November by the Attorney-General, Eric Holder, who revealed that the Justice Department and the Pentagon, were conducting "an active, ongoing criminal investigation".The request for the Twitter account details of three people linked to WikiLeaks suggest investigators are looking for evidence of collusion with the US Army private accused of downloading the sensitive cables and passing them to WikiLeaks.Private Bradley Manning, an intelligence officer based in Iraq, was arrested last May and is accused of transferring classified data and national security information to an unauthorised source.The three defendants represented in court on Tuesday were Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Iceland's parliament, and the WikiLeaks associates Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp.The three are believed to have been involved in editing and posting on the WikiLeaks site a classified US army video of a fatal helicopter gunship attack on two Reuters journalists in Iraq in 2007, allegedly passed to WikiLeaks by Private Manning.Defence lawyers say the court order infringes civil liberties by disregarding US constitutional protection for free speech and privacy.One of the lawyers, John Keker, said the information would allow the government to create a network of people tied to WikiLeaks, which could endanger free speech online.But Judge Buchanan appeared to side with prosecutors who say the material is routine information collected in criminal investigations."What they're seeking is location data and timing data," she said.The judge is expected to issue a written order and opinion.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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