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Lawsuit Judge Gavel

The U.S. Department of Justice has in its possession a court order asking Twitter to hand over information about the accounts of activists with ties to WikiLeaks. Those mentioned in the order include an Icelandic politician, a legendary Dutch hacker, and a U.S. computer programmer.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of Iceland’s national parliament, has revealed that Twitter notified her of the order’s existence and informed her that she has 10 days to oppose the request for information about her account.

Birgitta Jonsdottir Subpoeana Tweet

“I think I am being given a message, almost like someone breathing in a phone,” Jónsdóttir said in another Tweet.

The order (view PDF here) also requests account information for Bradley Manning (the U.S. Army private charged with leaking classified information), Wikileaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum, Dutch hacker and XS4ALL internet provider co-founder Rop Gonggrijp, and of course Julian Assange.

Appelbaum says he plans to fight the request in U.S. court. He has reportedly been detained at the border it sounds like people who were in his address book are being questioned at airports.

Jónsdóttir also plans to contest the subpoeana.  She wrote the Tweet below about 10 hours ago:

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Birgitta Jonsdottir No Consent Tweet
The Order was signed by Theresa Buchana, a federal Magistrate Judge in Virginia. It states that there is “reasonable ground to believe that the records or other information sought are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

It was issued on December 14 and ordered sealed, which means it was to be kept secret from the Twitter users in question. It gave Twitter three days to respond and prohibited the company from notifying anyone about the order.

However, on January 5, Buchanan seemingly changed her mind and unsealed the document at Twitter’s request so they could inform users and give them 10 days to object.  Obviously, had Twitter not made the request, they likely would have had to turn over users’ account info without letting them know they were doing so.

When asked why it made the decision to challenge the court order and inform the targets, Twitter representative Sean Garrett told TechCrunch:

“We’re not going to comment on specific requests, but, to help users protect their rights, it’s our policy to notify users about law enforcement and governmental requests for their information, unless we are prevented by law from doing so. We outline this policy in our law enforcement guidelines.”

Buchanan’s order isn’t your usual, run-of-the-mill subpoena. It is a 2703(d) order, which allows police to obtain certain records from a website if they are “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Buchanan’s original order from last month directed Twitter not to disclose “the existence of the investigation” to anyone, but that gag order was lifted this week. Twitter’s law enforcement guidelines say “our policy is to notify users of requests for their information prior to disclosure.”

Gonggrijp wrote a blog post about the e-mail Twitter sent to him, which read: “Please be advised that Twitter will respond to this request in 10 days from the date of this notice unless we receive notice from you that a motion to quash the legal process has been filed or that this matter has been otherwise resolved.”

Gonggrijp noted that “it appears that Twitter, as a matter of policy, does the right thing in wanting to inform their users when one of these comes in,” he said.

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