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Wikileaks backers lose battle to keep twitter data from U.S. investigators

Bloomberg’s Tom Schoenberg reports that three WikiLeaks backers lost their bid to keep information from their Twitter accounts from being turned over to U.S. prosecutors investigating the group’s publication of classified information.

U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady in Alexandria, Virginia, yesterday denied a request by the backers that the information sought by prosecutors be blocked while a federal appeals court considers their challenge. O’Grady, in his ruling, said the appeal has little chance of success because existing case law “overwhelmingly” supports the government’s position.

“Litigation of these issues has already denied the government lawful access to potential evidence for more than a year,” O’Grady said in his ruling. “The public interest therefore weighs strongly against further delay.”

U.S. investigators had served Twitter with a subpoena requesting subscriber names, contact information, billing records, user activity, Internet protocol addresses and source and destination e-mail addresses.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the U.S. subpoena violated privacy and First Amendment rights under the Constitution. A U.S. Magistrate ruled last March that the three Wikileaks backers lacked standing because the government did not seek the actual content of their Twitter communications.

When O’Grady upheld the Magistrate’s ruling, the three filed an appeal last month with the U.S. Appeals Court in Richmond, Virginia. O’Grady refused to block prosecutors from obtaining the data while pending the appeal on the basis that there was little chance for success on appeal.

From Kim Zetter reporting for Wired:

The government is seeking the records under 18 USC 2703(d), a provision of the 1994 Stored Communications Act that governs law enforcement access to non-content Internet records, such as transaction information. More powerful than a subpoena, but less so than a search warrant, a 2703(d) order is supposed to be issued when prosecutors provide a judge with “specific and articulable facts” that show the information sought is relevant and material to a criminal investigation. But the people targeted in the records demand don’t have to be suspected of criminal wrongdoing themselves.

Here’s a copy of Judge O’Grady’s Memorandum Opinion (pdf) denying Petitioners Motion to stay to stay the Court’s November 11, 2011 Order and enjoin enforcement of Magistrate Judge Buchanan’s December 14, 2010 Order directing Twitter to disclose the records.

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