By Matt Apuzzo
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; A04
Three people associated with the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks are asking a federal judge in Alexandria not to force the social-networking site Twitter to turn over data about whom they communicate with online.
The dispute cuts to the core of the question of whether WikiLeaks allies are part of a criminal conspiracy or a political discussion. It also challenges the Obama administration's argument that it can demand to see computer data and read months' worth of private messages, even if they have nothing to do with WikiLeaks.
In court documents unsealed Tuesday, the three challenged a Dec. 14 court order forcing Twitter to tell the government the names of those they talk to privately and who follow their posts.
The information would allow the government to map out their entire audience and figure out where each person was when he logged on to Twitter, lawyers said, amounting to an intrusion on the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
The documents echo the international debate that WikiLeaks sparked when it began revealing a treasure trove of sensitive military and diplomatic documents.
The U.S. government is investigating whether WikiLeaks should be held responsible for leaking classified information, even though it was not the original leaker. Defense attorneys say the question is one of political discussion, arguing that Twitter communication about WikiLeaks is protected speech.
"The First Amendment guarantees their right to speak up and freely associate with even unpopular people and cause," the lawyers wrote.
An e-mail seeking Justice Department comment was not immediately returned Tuesday.
- Associated Press