On March 11, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled on the United States v. Appelbaum, upholding a previous order which instructed Twitter to turn in Twitter records related to the government’s investigation in the Wikileaks case.
On Dec. 14, 2010, as part of its ongoing investigation concerning Wikileaks, the U.S. government subpoenaed Twitter to hold over its records, not the content of the actual Tweets which was already public, concerning certain people involved in the case.
The order demanded the: (1) Subscriber names, user names, screen names, or other identities. (2) The mailing address, residential addresses, business addresses, email addresses and other contact information. (3) Connection records or records of session times and durations. (4) The length of service, start date and types of service utilized. (5) Telephone or instrument number of other subscriber number or identity, including any temporarily assigned network addresses. (6) Means and source of payment for such service, which would include credit card or bank account numbers, and billing records. (7) Non-content information associated with the contents of any communication or file stored by the accounts, such as the source and destination email address, and IP addresses.
In line with the Stored Communications Act of 1986, the court issued an order requiring Twitter to turn over the above information regarding the following individuals and accounts: Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Rop Gonggrijp, Birgitta Jondottir and Jacob Appelbaum. Appelbaum, Gonggrijp and Jonsdottir, moved to fight the order, which the courts upheld in March.
Law that has been discussed in the case is the Stored Communication Act of 1986, part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which explains that in handing information over to a third party, you’re relinquishing the reasonable right to privacy in most cases.
When Forbes’ Law and Technology Ben Kerschberg considered the case, he wrote that the district court considered four legal issues: (1) Did the petitioners have a legal standing under the Stored Communications Act to bring a motion to vacate? (2) Was the court’s original order properly issued? (3) Did the original order violate the petitioner’s First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights? (4) Should the order be vacated?
Kerschberg added that the principles at stake in technology-focused cases are extremely important and judges “are expounding upon them.” In this case, the court found that the subpoena may be challenged when a costumer of the third-party, in this case Twitter, if the person’s “contents of electric communications are requested.” The court reasoned that in this case, on the records were requested.