March 11, 2011 / 11:14 PM / in 9 years

U.S. judge backs request for Assange friends' records

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday upheld federal prosecutors’ request for Internet records from associates of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as part of an investigation into the leak of secret U.S. diplomatic messages.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the media outside Beccles police station in Suffolk, England December 19, 2010. REUTERS/Paul Hackett/Files

U.S. Magistrate Theresa Buchanan in Virginia issued an order on Dec. 14 for the social media site Twitter to turn over records for Assange and several others including a member of Iceland’s Parliament, Birgitta Jonsdottir.

Jonsdottir and two others targeted by the records request challenged the order and demanded the court release any other secret requests for their records from other service providers so they could attempt to quash them as well.

Buchanan refused to rescind her order to Twitter because she said prosecutors were not seeking the content of the communications and the individuals already made public their posts on Twitter as well as their associations.

She also rejected arguments that turning over the Internet Protocol addresses was a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure because it revealed their location.

“Petitioners in this case voluntarily conveyed their IP addresses to the Twitter website, thus exposing the information to a third party administrator, and thereby relinquishing any reasonable expectation of privacy,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan originally signed an order for prosecutors seeking about seven months of information from Twitter, including who they communicated with, who they followed, and who followed them. They also requested information about how they logged in, which could identify their location at the time.

She also ruled that Jonsdottir did not enjoy protections because she was a member of Iceland’s Parliament, noting that was incidental to the probe, and she had agreed to Twitter’s privacy policy, assuming the risk that her records could be requested.

Prosecutors have been casting a wide net trying to determine whether Assange broke any laws when he obtained the classified diplomatic cables and disclosed them on his anti-secrecy website. A U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, has been suspected of leaking the information.

They have defended their request, emphasizing they were not seeking the contents of any messages or conversations between the individuals. It was a routine request akin to seeking phone records, prosecutors have said.

Lawyers for the three who challenged the order argued prosecutors should have narrowed their search and obtained a search warrant or subpoena.

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represented the group challenging the records request said they will appeal Buchanan’s ruling to a U.S. District judge.

“From our perspective, the government should not be able to obtain information about Internet users’ communications, but above all, the government shouldn’t be able to do so in secret,” said ACLU attorney Aden Fine.

Editing by John Whitesides

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