Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Secret FBI Subpoenas

The NYTimes doesn't believe that the U.S. Justice Department is conducting an illegal investigation of WikiLeaks. Oh, really ?

Running contrary to the characterisation of Birgitta Jonsdottir, a former WikiLeaks activist who is also a member of Iceland’s Parliament, that U.S. prosecutors were using a court order to collect ''personal information from an elected official without having any case,'' The New York Times has reported that the scope of the court order was not unlawful.

''The news that federal prosecutors have demanded that the microblogging site Twitter provide the account details of people connected to the WikiLeaks case, including its founder, Julian Assange, isn’t noteworthy because the government’s request was unusual or intrusive. It is noteworthy because it became public.''

Let's examine just a couple of aspects of the court order :

(i) ''The order asks for subscriber names, user names, screen names, mailing addresses, residential addresses and connection records along with other information related to the accounts.''

(ii) ''Stating that information held by Twitter was "relevant and material" to the WikiLeaks investigation, the district court ordered the startup to hand over:

  • session times and connection records
  • telephone numbers
  • credit card information
  • e-mail and IP addresses
  • correspondence and notes of record''

What would the U.S. government be gaining from conducting a court-sanctioned surveillance for this kind of social media account information? Not for nothing, by focusing on subscribers and connection records, among other things, the U.S. government is casting a wide, indiscriminate net into cyberspace, and it is hoping to pull in something -- legal or otherwise, relevant or otherwise, applicable or otherwise. There is no focus to the court order ; its only objectives are to spy and to collect surveillance over both foreigners, over which the U.S. may have no jurisdiction, and citizens, who are being denied due process.

On a blog of a WikiLeaks supporter, someone asked, ''Is this not the same type of action that you, DOJ, find reprehensible in other countries?''

(As an aside, I wonder if The Times even appreciates the fact that, after the U.S. government's secret investigation of WikiLeaks has become ''public,'' those being targeted by the court order can now reasonably fight the unreasonableness of the indiscriminate scope of the court order. The owners of the social media accounts, on Twitter, Facebook, and Google, have legal rights, according to the law. How would the owners of the social media accounts know to fight the government's court order, if the government doesn't even serve the court order on the account owners? Look at how wikipedia gives context to due process violation : ''When a government harms a person, without following the exact course of the law, then that is a due process violation which offends the rule of law.'')

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