Judge Rules Twitter-Users Must Hand Over Accounts in Wikileaks Investigation

A legal challenge to the Justice Department's WikiLeaks investigation was thoroughly rejected by a federal magistrate judge who ruled Friday that Twitter users targeted by the feds have no right to dispute the release of their account records to investigators.

It's the first of what will likely be many courtroom battles in the wake of the controversial WikiLeaks postings of sensitive government information.

Judge Theresa Buchanan's 20-page opinion struck down the Twitter-user's arguments on every point. She denied their motion to reverse her December court order giving the government the right to obtain account records from Twitter.  Buchanan also refused to force open information related to any other orders seeking similar information from other companies.

The key to Friday's ruling is that the government is only seeking information related to Twitter accounts and not the content of messages sent by three users who are targets of the federal investigation and linked to WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange.  "The Court holds that targets of court orders for non-content or records information may not bring a challenge under [federal law],"  Buchanan wrote while concluding that the users lacked standing to challenge the order.

Buchanan went further in her ruling to also strike down the merits of the legal claims made by Jacob Appelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir and Rop Gonggrijp.  She said the information sought by the government is relevant to a legitimate investigation even if some disclosed records are later determined to be non-essential to prosecutors.

The Twitter-users constitutional claims were also judged to be deficient.  Buchanan said the court order doesn't violate the First Amendment because the users voluntarily provided the non-content information to Twitter and agreed to the company's privacy policy.  She also ruled that "the Fourth Amendment privacy expectation does not extend to information voluntarily conveyed to third parties." This includes the disclosure of IP addresses.

As to claims that other court orders should be unsealed, Buchanan ruled that the government's interest in keeping secret the identity of its targets and witnesses outweighs public disclosure. "Indeed, [the Twitter-users] present no authority for the proposition that the public has a right of access to documents related to an ongoing investigation."

ACLU lawyer Aden Fine, representing Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament, says the decision will be appealed. "We disagree with this decision because it gives the government the ability to secretly amass private information related to individuals' Internet communications," Fine said in a e-mail to Fox News. "Except in extraordinary circumstances, the government should not be able to obtain this information in secret. That's not how our system works, and it shouldn't be permitted here."