The Guardian and Glenn Greenwald have the details of a Department of Justice subpoena asking Twitter to turn over account details
and direct (i.e., private) messages of Wikileaks associates, including Icelandic Parliament member Birgitta Jonsdottir and programmer (and US Citizen) Jacob Appelbaum.
Jonsdottir was associated with the production of Wikileaks’ collateral murder video, and her role is well-documented in the New Yorker story on Wikileaks and Assange. Appelbaum has been interrogated at border crossings, and his cell phones were confiscated and never returned during a recent three-hour border inspection.
The subpoenas were issued under seal, and Twitter was able to convince a court to allow them to inform users that their information had been revealed. It’s likely that other services, like Google or Facebook, were or will be issued similar subpoenas.
If you look at the history of the legal case in the Pentagon Papers, where the Supreme Court decided that the government couldn’t enjoin newspapers from printing the papers, the rights of journalists in these types of cases are not at all clear. The Espionage Act of 1917, which was passed in one of the ugliest periods of American history, is still on the books and hasn’t really been litigated. This is the act that Lieberman and others want to extend with the “SHIELD Act” to be sure that it covers Wikileaks, and Lieberman has already called for the prosecution of the Times under the Espionage Act for publishing Wikileaks-conveyed secrets.
As this Times article points out, since the Pentagon Papers, there’s been a bit of an unspoken agreement between the press and the Department of Justice that reporters won’t be prosecuted for the possession of government secrets. Those days appear to be over, as the Department of Justice apparently prepares to prosecute Assange using the Espionage Act. Applebaum and Jonsdottir were playing the roles of editor and printer for Wikileaks, and every detail of their personal accounts and private communications during the last 14 months on Twitter, and probably other services, are going to be shared with the Government.
This story just broke, so we’ll see if Villagers — who make their living venerating special privilege and lauding backroom, unspoken gentlemen’s agreements — understand that a group doing exactly what they do are no longer so fucking special, and that the Village is probably next.
Update: After re-reading the subpoena [pdf], I’m pretty sure that the actual direct messages aren’t being requested, just every other thing about the messages (when they happened, what IP they came from, etc.) and every personal detail about the Twitter accounts.