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Twitter, WikiLeaks, and Your Right to Privacy

Aden Fine,
Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project
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January 20, 2012

Today we're filing an appeal in the legal battle over the records of several Twitter users being sought by the government in connection with its WikiLeaks investigation. In this latest round, we’re again fighting to make public the government’s efforts to obtain Internet users’ private information without a warrant.

The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation represent Icelandic parliament member Birgitta Jonsdottir. In a November ruling, U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady refused to unseal or publicly list any court orders or legal motions concerning our clients in the case, including any government orders issued to companies other than Twitter. These secret orders and these secret court dockets prevent our clients from having the chance to protect their constitutional rights by challenging the orders, as we did in the Twitter case.

This isn’t the only time that government investigators have tried to get the private records of Internet users, and it unfortunately probably won’t be the last. In another case involving a Twitter user, local prosecutors in Boston recently subpoenaed Twitter to learn the identity of a user who posted publicly available information about Boston police officers following the removal of the Occupy Boston protestors. The ACLU of Massachusetts and ACLU national are representing that Twitter user’s legal challenge to the subpoena. Last month, over our objections, the judge held a hearing in secret and sealed all of the records, even though the subpoena itself is a public document.

The government shouldn’t be able to get this kind of information without a warrant, and they certainly shouldn’t be able to do so in secret. Internet users don’t automatically give up their rights to privacy and free speech when they use services like Twitter. An open court system is a fundamental part of our democracy, and the very existence of court documents should not be hidden from the public. That’s not how our judicial system works, and we’re hopeful that the courts will start to put an end to this secrecy.

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