Wednesday, January 12, 2011

european politicos protest doj wikileaks-twitter probe

CNET | On Friday, Twitter notified a handful of its subscribers with ties to Wikileaks that the U.S. Justice Department had obtained a court order for their "subscriber account information." The order covers accounts linked to Wikileaks including those of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking classified documents; Seattle-based Wikileaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum; Dutch hacker and XS4ALL Internet provider co-founder Rop Gonggrijp; and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of the Icelandic parliament.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe hosted Assange and Jónsdóttir at an event in July 2010 devoted to protecting free speech. (Iceland enjoys close economic ties with the EU and has applied for full membership.)

We defend "the right to offend which is an essential part of freedom of expression, and we will stand with those who come under pressure to freely express their views," Alexander Lambsdorff, a member of the European Parliament from Germany, said at the event.

Around the same time, the U.S. government began a criminal investigation of Wikileaks and Assange after the Web site began releasing what would become a deluge of confidential military and State Department files. In November, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the probe is "ongoing," and a few weeks later an attorney for Assange said he had been told that a grand jury had been empaneled in Alexandria, Va.

The court order to Twitter (PDF), signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan in Alexandria, Va., is the first public evidence of this investigation. The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, CNET previously reported, will represent Jónsdóttir (but not the other account holders) and oppose the court order sought by prosecutors.

"It sort of feels to me as if they've become quite desperate," Jónsdóttir said at an conference in Canada today, referring to the Justice Department. She said prosecutors shouldn't expect to obtain much from accounts used by such a security-conscious, encryption-savvy cadre of activists: "None of us would ever use Twitter messaging to say anything sensitive."

Prosecutors send subpoenas to and serve other legal process on Web sites and Internet service providers every day. But because Jónsdóttir is one of 63 members of Iceland's national parliament who serves on the foreign affairs committee, the order appears to have caused an international diplomatic incident outside of Europe as well: last weekend, the Icelandic government summoned U.S. ambassador Luis Arreaga to a meeting.

Earlier today, P.J. Crowley, the U.S. State Department's spokesman, gave a speech in Washington, D.C. that defended the Obama administration's legal pursuit of Wikileaks:
WikiLeaks is about the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It is not an exercise in Internet freedom. It is about the legitimate investigation of a crime. It is about the need to continue to protect sensitive information while enabling the free flow of public information...

We remain arguably the most transparent society in the world. The American people, through innovations including C-SPAN, are a well-informed citizenry, which is crucial to a functioning democracy. We can have a discussion about how well our democracy is functioning, and whether political figures are spending more time pandering or posturing on television than actually governing.

We are a nation of laws, and the laws of our country have been violated. Since we function under the rule of law, it is appropriate and necessary that we investigate and prosecute those who have violated U.S law. Some have suggested that the ongoing investigation marks a retreat from our commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and Internet freedom. Nonsense. These are universal principles and our commitment is unwavering.
A preliminary legal brief (PDF) that Assange's lawyers filed with the London court today takes issue with that characterization of the U.S. legal system, arguing: "If Mr. Assange were rendered to the USA, without assurances that the death penalty would not be carried out, there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty. It is well-known that prominent figures have implied, if not stated outright, that Mr. Assange should be executed."