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Latest twist in high-tech story of WikiLeaks: Twitter is subpoenaed

The Justice Department has subpoenaed Twitter, a top social-media site, for information pertaining to certain persons and accounts linked to WikiLeaks.

The Twitter logo hangs in the company's San Francisco offices in this file photo. Twitter has been subpoenaed by the Justice Department for information related to WikiLeaks in the ongoing over leaked diplomatic cables.

Jeff Chiu/AP/File

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The latest development in the WikiLeaks saga involves yet another 21st-century online phenomenon – Twitter.

The US Department of Justice has subpoenaed Twitter, a top social-media site, for information pertaining to certain persons and accounts linked to WikiLeaks, according to media reports. The action comes after Attorney General Eric Holder indicated last year that the Justice Department was looking at options for prosecuting those involved in WikiLeaks’s release of secret US documents.

The news about Twitter follows other developments in the WikiLeaks timeline that could happen only in the age of the Internet. After WikiLeaks’s data dumps last year heightened tensions, online retailer Amazon ejected the organization from its servers. PayPal, the Internet payment facilitator by which WikiLeaks had raised donations, also cut the group off. (MasterCard and Visa did, too.)

Then in December, a WikiLeaks support group launched "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) attacks against these businesses’ websites. At the time, some media proclaimed cyberwar, although subsequent analyses show that the DDoS attacks did not inflict as much damage as intended.

As for the Twitter subpoena, the Department of Justice is demanding a sizable amount of information: “It includes all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the ‘means and source of payment,’ including banking records and credit cards,” details Salon. The information to be produced is supposed to go back to Nov. 1, 2009, Salon says.

Those targeted in the subpoena include WikiLeaks’s founder, Julian Assange; and Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been charged with leaking US secrets to WikiLeaks.

The subpoena was originally sealed, meaning that even those targeted did not know of its existence. But that secrecy was recently lifted, probably at the insistence of Twitter.

“To help users protect their rights, it’s our policy to notify users about law enforcement and government requests for their information, unless we are prevented by law from doing so,” CNN quoted Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner as saying. “We outline this policy in our law-enforcement guidelines.”

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WikiLeaks demanded that Google and Facebook unseal any US subpoenas that they may have received, and the organization indicated the Twitter subpoena would be fought.

In 2010, WikiLeaks released three batches of documents that created much controversy. The first two were military documents about the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some maintain that the disclosures put at risk local sources who had worked with America. The last set of documents was made up of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables. Some of the revelations embarrassed America, and US officials said they were damaging to foreign relations.


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