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Twitter-Wikileaks Arguments To Be Heard Today

February 15, 2011

On Tuesday, a federal judge was to hear arguments on a court order directing microblogging site Twitter to hand over information on users connected to Wikileaks in a case pitting privacy advocates against federal prosecutors.

The court order was handed down in December, but unsealed February 9 in order to allow users of the social networking site to have an opportunity to appeal the decisions.

“This is an outrageous attack by the Obama administration on the privacy and free speech rights of Twitter’s customers — many of them American citizens,” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement Monday.

He said the order was “more shocking, at this time, (as) it amounts to an attack on the right to freedom of association, a freedom that the people of Tunisia and Egypt, for example, spurred on by the information released by Wikileaks, have found so valuable.”

The court order directed Twitter to turn over information about Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, U.S. computer researcher Jacob Appelbaum and Dutch volunteer for Wikileaks Rop Gonggrijp.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others have challenged the order’s validity.

Wikileaks described the hearing as “the first round in the US government’s legal battle against Julian Assange.”

However, the site said that it nor Assange would take part in the hearing because they believed the U.S. lacked jurisdiction “over expressive activities beyond its borders.”

However, Assange’s lead council in London, Geoffrey Robertson, brought in Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz as part of the legal team battling the U.S. government’s request.

Assange was in London awaiting a court decision on whether he should be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual molestation.

The U.S. Justice Department has been pursuing a criminal investigation of Wikileaks, which has published hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. military reports.

Last month, Iceland’s foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador in Reykjavik to express “serious concern” about the court order on behalf of Jonsdottir.

Wikileaks said Twitter was being ordered to “disclose the names, dates and locations of all persons who have used its services to receive messages from Wikileaks or Mr Assange.”

Wikileaks said other service providers like Google, Facebook and Yahoo may have also received a similar demand and “may already have provided information to the government.”

“We are all asking all service providers to explain whether they, too, have been served with a similar order, and whether, they have caved into it,” Assange said in a statement.

The U.S. government’s attempt “to obtain vast amounts of private information (could) jeopardize and chill First Amendment rights of association, of expression, of political assembly, of speech,” Wikileaks said.

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