RICHMOND, Va. -- A federal appeals court ruled Friday that prosecutors can demand Twitter account information of certain users in their criminal probe into the disclosure of classified documents on WikiLeaks.
The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said the government's reasons as to why it is seeking the information can remain sealed.
The case involves three Twitter account holders with some connection to the secret-busting WikiLeaks website. They had argued that forcing Twitter to cooperate with the investigation by turning over data amounts to an invasion of privacy and has a chilling effect on the free speech rights of Twitter users.
The federal panel in Richmond rejected their appeal and affirmed a magistrate's court order that Twitter must turn over limited account information to prosecutors. The court said it weighed the right of public access against the need to keep an investigation secret. The appeals court agreed with the magistrate that the government's interest in keeping the documents secret outweigh the right to public access.
Prosecutors have said federal law specifically allows them to seek account information as a routine investigative tool. Specifically, the Stored Communications Act allows them to obtain certain electronic data without a search warrant or a demonstration of probable cause. The government must only show that it has a reasonable belief that the records it seeks are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.
"This is essentially a reasonable suspicion standard," the court wrote.
Under the Stored Communications Act, the government can also keep sealed documents related to their investigation from the subscribers. The appeals panel concluded the subscribers had no First Amendment right to access the documents. Prosecutors submitted their rationale for seeking the Twitter information to U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan but it was kept secret and sealed also.
The court wrote that the "government's interests in maintaining secrecy of its investigation, preventing potential subjects from being tipped off, or altering behavior to thwart the government's ongoing investigation, outweighed" the subscribers' claims.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, representing the Twitter users, said the government can use those IP addresses as a sort of virtual tracking device to identify a specific computer used by an account holder and with it the user's physical location.
The appeals panel also allows the government to keep secret any similar orders it sought from other social media sites.
"This case shows just how easy it is for the government to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet, and it highlights the need for our electronic privacy laws to catch up with technology," said ACLU attorney Aden Fine. "The government should not be able to get private information like this without getting a warrant and also satisfying the standard required by the First Amendment, and it shouldn't be able to do so in secret except in unusual circumstances"
The original order issued in December 2010 at prosecutors' request also sought Twitter account information from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Pfc. Bradley Manning, who faces life in prison if he's convicted of indirectly aiding the enemy by leaking U.S. secrets while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.
Neither Assange nor Manning was a party in the lawsuit challenging the legality of the Twitter order.
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Abuse Of Prisoners
As the <em>New York Times </em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/world/guantanamo-files-lives-in-an-american-limbo.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1" target="_hplink">reports</a>, Mohammed Qahtani -- a Saudi believed to have been an intended participant in the Sept. 11 attacks -- was subject to coercive questioning and other abuses during his interrogation. The cables describe Qahtani as being leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated and forced to urinate on himself. His file says, "Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention," his confessions "appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources."
Arbitrary Nature Of Prison System
As <em>Le Monde</em> is <a href="http://www.worldcrunch.com/wikileaks-guantanamo-why-us-declared-iranian-catholic-drug-dealer-enemy-combatant" target="_hplink">reporting</a>, one "low-value" Iranian-Catholic detainee was kept in Guantanamo even after being deemed ready for release -- given his "cooperative nature" and in the interest of "possible financing relations" between Al Qaeda and traffickers. According to the cables, Abdul Majid Muhammed was deemed fit for release in 2002: "The detainee is not affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. He was involved in drug trafficking. It is unlikely that he represents a risk for the U.S. or its allies."
An Al Jazeera journalist was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/sami-al-hajj-al-jazeera-j_n_853297.html" target="_hplink">reportedly </a>held at Guantanamo Bay for six years partially so he could be interrogated about the network Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese national and Al Jazeera cameraman, was captured in Pakistan in late 2001. Though he was never convicted or even tried of any terrorist ties, al-Hajj was held until 2008 because interrogators wanted to find out more about "the al-Jazeera news network's training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network's acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL," <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/guantanamo-files/US9SU-000345DP" target="_hplink">according</a> to the cables.
Violent Threats Against Captors
Some detainees are described as ruthlessly violent in the documents. As the <em>New York Times </em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/world/guantanamo-files-lives-in-an-american-limbo.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1" target="_hplink">reports</a>, one detainee said "he would like to tell his friends in Iraq to find the interrogator, slice him up, and make a shwarma (a type of sandwich) out of him, with the interrogator's head sticking out of the end of the shwarma." Another "threatened to kill a U.S. service member by chopping off his head and hands when he gets out," and informed a guard that "he will murder him and drink his blood for lunch. Detainee also stated he would fly planes into houses and prayed that President Bush would die."
New Details On Post-9/11 Al Qaeda Whereabouts
As the<em> Washington Post</em> <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/wikileaks-discloses-new-details-on-whereabouts-of-al-qaeda-leaders-on-911/2011/04/24/AFvvzIeE_story_2.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>, the documents describe a major gathering of some of Al Qaeda's most senior operatives in early December 2001. They included Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks; Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged planner of the USS Cole attack; and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a key facilitator for bin Laden. After returning to Karachi, Mohammed "put together a training program for assassinations and kidnappings as well as pistol and computer training."
"Nuclear Hellstorm' Threat
The leaked files<a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h9ouUwZB0vhDcEsGB8N2uVcvGFqQ?docId=CNG.e738123e4ccce6019851c695501ca633.9e1" target="_hplink"> indicate</a> Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told Guantanamo Bay interrogators that Al Qaeda had hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe which will unleash a "nuclear hellstorm" if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed. The terror group also planned to make a 9/11 style attack on London's Heathrow airport by crashing a hijacked airliner into one of the terminals, the files showed.
The <em>Washington Post</em><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/wikileaks-discloses-new-details-on-whereabouts-of-al-qaeda-leaders-on-911/2011/04/24/AFvvzIeE_story_2.html" target="_hplink"> reports</a> Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged planner of the USS Cole attack, "received injections to promote impotence" to avoid being distracted by women, and "recommended the injections to others so more time could be spent on the jihad."
Prisoner Details And Ranking System
Gitmo detainees are <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/wikileaks-discloses-new-details-on-whereabouts-of-al-qaeda-leaders-on-911/2011/04/24/AFvvzIeE_story.html" target="_hplink">reportedly</a> assessed "high," "medium" or "low" in terms of their intelligence value, the threat they pose while in detention and the continued threat they might pose to the United States if released. As Reuters<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/guantanamo-files-detainees_n_853309.html" target="_hplink"> reports</a>, most of the 172 remaining prisoners have been rated as a "high risk" of posing a threat to the United States and its allies if released without adequate rehabilitation and supervision.
Gitmo authorities named Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency a "terrorist organization" along with Hamas and other international militant networks, according to leaked documents. As the Associated Press <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/pakistan-intelligence-terror-links-guantanamo_n_853274.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>, the ISI is part of a list that includes more than 60 international militant networks, as well as Iran's intelligence services, that are "terrorist" entities or associations and say detainees linked to them "may have provided support to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, or engaged in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces."