Power Play

Twitter Users Make Plea for Privacy in Wikileaks Case

Dec. 1: The Twitter homepage of Wikileaks is shown in this photo taken in New York.

Dec. 1: The Twitter homepage of Wikileaks is shown in this photo taken in New York.  (AP)

A federal judge appears unlikely to deny prosecutors access to Twitter accounts as part of the U.S. government's investigation into classified information posted on the WikiLeaks website.

Lawyers representing three people who were told by Twitter that the government wants to look at their account records seemed to run into difficulty Tuesday with their request that a judge set aside a previous order giving prosecutors access.

The Twitter court order is likely only a small part of the Justice Department's investigation of the leak and subsequent posting of classified information on the WikiLeaks website.

The 70-minute court hearing was described as an examination of unchartered legal questions by lawyers for the three Twitter users. They repeatedly noted the larger political and constitutional issues they feel are in play claiming violations of constitutional rights to free speech and privacy while also speaking to the role Twitter played in the uprisings in the Tunisia and Egypt.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Davis said the court order for Twitter records is no different than those for phone records and the dispute isn't about rights and politics but rather facts and evidence.

“This is a standard investigative measure used every day of the year in criminal cases across the country,” Davis said.

In December, Federal Magistrate Theresa Buchanan issued an order allowing the government to go after the Twitter account information, which includes home addresses, connection records and Internet protocol addresses.

"There is no possible justification" for the government to get that information, lawyer John Keker said in the fifth-floor courtroom in Alexandria, Va. Keker represents Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security expert and frequent Twitterer, who is one of the three people the government has targeted in its pursuit of Twitter records.

Keker and the other lawyers contend that the government lacks sufficient reason to believe their clients' Twitter information is relevant to the WikiLeaks investigation. They also argue the "government snooping" is a violation of the First and Fourth amendments to the Constitution.

But Judge Buchanan said Keker was exaggerating his claims of harm and that the government wasn't seeking information that is out of bounds. "You keep stepping into beyond what this order is directed to," she told Keker.

Believing that other similar orders have been granted in secret, the Twitter-user lawyers also asked Buchanan to issue a ruling to make that information public. Lawyer Aden Fine said the entire world is watching whether Buchanan will rule in favor of the "clear presumption to open access" of court documents.

Again, Buchanan seemed to side with the government noting that the release of sensitive information, including affidavits and sealed court orders, at this stage of an investigation isn't as imperative as it would be at trial.

Buchanan praised the lawyers on both sides for their arguments and said she would issue a written opinion but did not say when she would rule.