The US government has requested personal information from the Twitter accounts of four WikiLeaks supporters as part of a widening criminal probe, the whistle-blower website says.
The US Department of Justice has been pursuing a criminal investigation into the website’s leak of hundreds of thousands of secret US frontline military reports and diplomatic cables.
WikiLeaks said in a statement it suspected similar requests had been sent to Google and Facebook, and that they may have quietly complied with the requests without notifying members.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.
A spokesman for Facebook, Andrew Noyes, also said “we have no comment at this time”.
According to documents first published by Salon.com and obtained by Agence France-Presse, a US lawyer in Virginia last month requested private messages, contact information and credit card numbers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Bradley Manning — the US soldier suspected of leaking the documents — and two other WikiLeaks backers.
The order was confidential, but the judge unsealed it on Wednesday, apparently to allow Twitter, a popular micro-blogging website, to notify the users and give them a chance to launch a legal appeal.
WikiLeaks said the information request, which covers all information from November 1, 2009 to the present, was made at the behest of the US State Department, which was furious over the ongoing release of thousands of secret diplomatic cables.
Icelandic parliamentarian and WikiLeaks supporter Birgitta Jonsdottir, one of the individuals named in the subpoena, said she received an email from Twitter two days after the documents were unsealed informing her of the request.
“Please be advised that Twitter will respond to this request in 10 days from the date of this notice unless we receive notice from you that a motion to quash the legal process has been filed or that this matter has been otherwise resolved,” it said.
“(Twitter) actually fought this on behalf of their customers because this sort of information should really not be handed over, in particular because there is no criminal case here,” Jonsdottir said on Saturday.
Jonsdottir said she contacted the Icelandic justice minister, who was looking into the matter, and said she wanted to meet with the US ambassador in Iceland to complain.
“I am speaking to US lawyers… because I want to try to stop that Twitter needs to hand over this information, on the principle,” she said.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is on bail in Britain facing extradition proceedings to Sweden on charges of sexual assault, also expressed outrage, accusing the US government of “intruding into the private lives” of WikiLeaks supporters.
However, legal analysts pointed out that such requests are normal in criminal investigations and similar subpoenas are often issued for phone records and even bank statements.
WikiLeaks said, however, it was in contact with US lawyers and urged Twitter to protect its users’ private information.
It stressed that other than Assange, the three people whose accounts had been subpoenaed had never worked for the site.
In November, WikiLeaks began slowly releasing 251,287 US diplomatic cables, which prompted calls from US lawmakers for legal action, and the following month credit card giants Visa and Mastercard stopped facilitating donations to the website.