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Posted at 12:27 PM ET, 02/15/2011

Judge to consider Twitter information request

By Dana Hedgpeth

A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday said she would consider an order that the social networking site Twitter must turn over three clients' personal information as part of the government's criminal investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Half a dozen lawyers for the three Twitter customers -- including Assange -- argued that their clients' information is protected by the First Amendment.

The government has requested personal Twitter information for Assange, Bradley Manning -- the Army private who is suspected of supplying classified material to WikiLeaks -- Birgitta Jonsdottir, a former WikiLeaks activits who is also a member of Iceland's parliament, and computer programmers Rop Gonggrijp, a Dutch citizen, and Jacob Appelbaum, an American.

The case goes to the heart of the larger debate about WikiLeaks itself and whether the site's disclosing of thousands of classsified government documents was free speech or a violation of national security. A judge ordered Twitter to turn over the information in a Dec. 14 ruling.

Jonsdottir, Gonggrijp and Appelbaum were represented by three defense lawyers, including one from the American Civil Liberties Union, in Tuesday's hearing.

"The government wants the information of all connections of our clients on Twitter -- who they sent them to and where they were when they sent them. That is basically a map of association," said defense lawyer John W. Keker during a 90-minute hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan of the Eastern District of Virginia.

"It is indeed ironic making this argument here given what's going on in Egypt and the whole idea of politics and the use of social networks like Twitter," said Keker, who claimed that releasing such information about his clients would have "a chilling effect on the First Amendment," Keker said.

Lawyers for the government disagreed, saying the information they seek about the clients' addresses, bank account and credit information and e-mails is unrelated to what they said but is needed as part of their ongoing investigation into WikiLeaks.

"There is nothing burdensome. There is nothing voluminous," said John S. Davis, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of Virginia, during the court hearing. "This is a standard request that is used everyday all over the country in criminal investigations."

"This is not about association rights," he said. "This is not about politics. This is about the facts and evidence. It's about the communications among people that might show association."

Davis characterized the request as being for "an American corporation's business records. "It is not for content," he said. "It is like a search for toll records. Tweets are public statements that are uniquely and widely available."

Government lawyers said the defense's request to unseal documents in the case would "damage the ongoing investigation."

By Dana Hedgpeth  | February 15, 2011; 12:27 PM ET
Categories:  Dana Hedgpeth, From the Courthouse, Technology, Updates  
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