Legal Battle Over Government Demands For Twitter Records Unsealed By Court

February 8, 2011 7:56 pm

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ALEXANDRIA, VA – A federal court in Alexandria, Virginia today unsealed motions filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union and others concerning government attempts to obtain Twitter account records about three individuals in connection with its WikiLeaks investigation. The documents were originally filed under seal late last month.

One of the newly-available motions is a request to unseal the still-secret court records of the government’s attempts to collect private records from Twitter, Inc., as well as other companies who may have received demands for information from the government. The second motion seeks to overturn the December 14 court order requiring Twitter to provide information about its users. The third motion was subsequently filed to unseal the original two motions. A hearing on the first two motions is set for 10:30 a.m. on February 15 in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

The ACLU and EFF represent Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian and one of the Twitter users whose records were sought by the government. The motion was joined by attorneys from the law firm Keker & Van Nest LLP and the Law Office of John D. Cline on behalf of Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp, respectively, as well as local counsel in Virginia. The government had also requested information concerning Appelbaum and Gonggrijp’s Twitter accounts.

“We are troubled that the original court order requiring Twitter to turn over its users’ private records was filed under seal,” said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “Except in truly extraordinary circumstances, Internet users should receive notice and an opportunity to go to court to defend their constitutional rights before their privacy is compromised. That’s what is happening now, and we are hopeful that the court will unseal the rest of the sealed materials.”

“Twitter is a publication and communication service, so the information sought by the government relates to what these individuals said and where they were when they said it,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “This raises serious First and Fourth Amendment concerns. It is especially troubling since the request seeks information about all statements made by these people, regardless of whether their speech relates to WikiLeaks.”

Attorneys for Jonsdottir are Fine and Benjamin Siracusa-Hillman of the ACLU, Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia and Cohn, Lee Tien, Marcia Hofmann and Kevin Bankston of EFF.

The newly unsealed documents are available online at:

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