Twitter Grows a Pair in Fighting Federal Subpoenas for WikiLeaks User Info


Tech companies like Google and Twitter have a similar protocol for responding to federal subpoenas or other legal requests for user information: Notify the user before complying. The easy out for corporations is that if the requests come with the gag order, which they routinely do, the company can’t follow through on giving the user a chance to fight the request. But when a magistrate judge in the federal grand jury investigation on WikiLeaks okayed a court order to force Twitter to turn over information on users connected to WikiLeaks, like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, former WikiLeaks spokeswoman Birgitta Jonsdottir, and WikiLeaks activist Jacob Appelbaum, the company decided to fight the gag order itself. Rather than opening up its database and revealing IP and e-mail addresses, Twitter says it challenged the gag order in court and told the targets about the court order, giving them time to try and quash it. In other words, said Wired’s Ryan Singel, “Twitter beta-tested a spine.” If Twitter got a secret Department of Justice subpoena, which was sent out December 14 and unsealed January 5, it can’t have been the only one? So what accounts for the cojones? Fast Company thinks it’s Twitter’s “incredibly mild mannered (really) but sharp-as-a-tack cyber law expert legal counsel,” Alexander Macgillivray. He hails from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, founded a little over a decade ago by Charles Nesson, the lawyer who defended Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg.

But Twitter’s actions might not be sufficient enough to keep them out of Anonymous’s crosshairs. The hacktivist group who took down sites like MasterCard, PayPal, and Amazon is back in the fray and planning a global day of supposedly legal protest, you know the old-school stand-around kind. But MSNBC doesn’t believe that makes Twitter immune, especially since it has to comply with the order eventually. It certainly won’t calm Anonymous’s ire to hear that Mark Stephens, Assange’s lawyer in the U.S., just told Reuters he did not believe that Twitter told either his client or WikiLeaks that the DOJ was seeking their records. Uh-oh. Looks like somebody’s gonna get hacktivised. Hacktivisted? Whatever, just change your password to be safe.

Twitter’s Response to WikiLeaks Subpoena Should Be the Industry Standard [Wired]
Why Twitter Was the Only Company to Challenge the Secret WikiLeaks Subpoena [Fast Company]
Twitter in line to be hactivists’ next target [MSNBC]
WikiLeaks activists may seek to quash demand for docs [Reuters]