While many of the 140-or-fewer messages people post using Twitter are public, members can also send Direct Messages that are private and it is these messages that the US Department of Justice is requesting. The subpoena is the first indication that the US government may be proceeding with a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and of Assange.
Other WikiLeaks officials who’s Direct Messages have been requested are those Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp. In addition, the subpoena seeks the Direct Messages of Bradley Manning and also for WikiLeaks Twitter account. This is the only comment Twitter made about the case:
"We're not going to comment on specific requests, but, to help users protect their rights, it's our policy to notify users about law enforcement and governmental requests for their information, unless we are prevented by law from doing so."
The subpoena can be read on Salon.com, where Glenn Greenwald writes:
The information demanded by the DOJ is sweeping in scope. It includes all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the "means and source of payment," including banking records and credit cards. It seeks all of that information for the period beginning November 1, 2009, through the present.
The subpoena, which was unsealed on January 5, provides an idea of how the US plans 'to help prove that either Mr. Assange or one of his surrogates pushed Mr. Manning to leak the government documents.' Currently there is 'intense pressure' to somehow criminally prosecute Assange as a 'co-conspirator' to prevent future leaks on the Internet of such a scope:
By seeking to prove Mr. Assange was a conspirator in the leak, the government seeks to differentiate the actions of WikiLeaks from those of traditional news organizations or investigative journalists who also disclose government information.
The United States has also taken steps to protect against future leaks, including suggesting employees of various agencies that handle sensitive material take measures to evaluate the “trustworthiness” of co-workers, according to a memo circulated last week by the Office of Management and Budget.
Jónsdóttir has vowed to fight the subpoena issued to access her Direct Messages on Twitter. Via her (public Twitter stream, she posted:
department of justice are requesting twitter to provide the info – I got 10 days to stop it via legal process before twitter hands it over."
Iceland's Interior Minister, Ögmundur Jónasson, has described the DOJ’s efforts to obtain the Twitter information of a member of Iceland's Parliament as "grave and odd.'"
The Department of Justice is now countering the releasing of its classified information by demanding the private messages of others. Says Glenn Greenwald:
It's worth recalling -- and I hope journalists writing about this story remind themselves -- that all of this extraordinary probing and "criminal" investigating is stemming from WikiLeaks' doing nothing more than publishing classified information showing what the U.S. Government is doing: something investigative journalists, by definition, do all the time.
And the key question now is this: did other Internet and social network companies (Google, Facebook, etc.) receive similar Orders and then quietly comply? It's difficult to imagine why the DOJ would want information only from Twitter.....
In releasing classified, top-security documents on the Internet, Wikileaks, Assange and its officials and supporters have often cited transparency. But to the US government and many others, WikiLeaks' actions are a gross invasion of security, of the 'privacy' of governments. By issuing subpoenas to access the direct messages of Assange's, Jónsdóttir's, and others' Twitter accounts, the Department of Justice is, it could be said, 'leaking' the 'classified'---private---messages of others.
Of course, the Department of Justice would not have taken such actions had Wikileaks top-secret information. Making documents public on the Internet makes them instantly accessible to anyone who can go online and it's impossible for any of us to know who may have read the documents.
As the WikiLeaks cases unfolds, more and more it seems that nothing is ever or can ever be totally private and 'secure' anymore; For anyone.