Twitter Informs Users Of DOJ WikiLeaks Court Order, Didn't Have To

Gavelphoto © 2008 walknboston | more info (via: Wylio)The US Department of Justice  has served Twitter with a 2703(d) court order to reveal information about accounts related to people associated with WikiLeaks.

The order is a request for account data including the ominous “correspondence and notes of record related to the account” for users Jacob Appelbaum (@ioerror), Rop Gongrijp (@rop_g), Birgitta Jonsittir (@birgittaj); Julian Assange and Bradley Manning from November 1, 2009 to present.

Salon is reporting that the original (sealed) order was signed on December 14th by Judge Theresa Buchanan in Alexandria, Va. It gave Twitter 3 days to comply with the DOJ without notifying anyone involved. Then mysteriously, and possibly because a gag order on a 2703 (d) might be unconstitutional, Buchanan decided this Wednesday to unseal the document at Twitter’s request.

Cnet political corespondent Declan McCullagh tells TechCrunch that this is highly unusual, “So the judge — remember, a magistrate judge, not a district judge — got nervous and backed down and coughed up this week’s order. You rarely see judges reverse themselves so thoroughly.”

After Twitter successfully balked, those targeted were then given 10 days to take legal action. User @rop_g received the following email.

Kessel, Jan-07 11:20 am (PST):
Dear Twitter User:

We are writing to inform you that Twitter has received legal process requesting information regarding your Twitter account, @rop_g. A copy of the legal process is attached. The legal process requires Twitter to produce documents related to your account.

Please be advised that Twitter will respond to this request in 10 days from the date of this notice unless we receive notice from you that a motion to quash the legal process has been filed or that this matter has been otherwise resolved.

To respond to this notice, please e-mail us at <removed>.

This notice is not legal advice. You may wish to consult legal counsel about this matter. If you need assistance seeking counsel, you may consider contacting the Electronic Frontier Foundation <contact info removed> or the ACLU <contact info removed>.


Twitter Legal

According to the documents, if Twitter legal had not taken action to unseal the order, it would have had to turn over user information without giving a heads up to users, or anyone really, that it was doing such. When asked why it made the decision to challenge the court order and inform the targets, Twitter representative Sean Garrett gave us the following statement on Twitter’s behalf.

“We’re not going to comment on specific requests, but, to help users protect their rights, it’s our policy to notify users about law enforcement and governmental requests for their information, unless we are prevented by law from doing so. We outline this policy in our law enforcement guidelines.”

Requesting the order to be unsealed is an interesting move by Twitter in the for all intents and purposes legally unprecedented case of the stateless WikiLeaks. Twitter has heretofore been subpoenaed for information by Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, a subpoena that was subsequently withdrawn.

The WikiLeaks Twitter account has also mentioned Google and Facebook as other possible recipients of data requests. I have contacted both companies for more information and have yet to hear back.

Court order and unsealing notice, below.