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WikiLeaks, free speech and Twitter come together in Va. court case

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But prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of Virginia disagreed, saying in court that their request to Twitter was routine and that releasing documents in the case would damage their investigation of WikiLeaks. It's unclear whether Twitter even collects all the information requested by the government.

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'It is not about politics'

After the hour-long hearing, Buchanan said she would take the case "under consideration." She is expected to issue a written order and opinion.

Keker argued that turning over the Twitter customers' information would also violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against warrantless searches.

But Buchanan questioned whether Keker was exaggerating the amount of information that her Dec. 14 order allowed the government to get.

"What they're seeking is location data and timing data," Buchanan said. The government is not seeking data that would reveal the content of Twitter messages.

John Davis, an assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria, said the government's request was routine.

"This is a standard - as this court knows well - investigative measure used in criminal investigations every day of the year all over the country," Davis said. "This is not about association rights. It is not about politics. It is about facts and evidence."

In court papers, defense lawyers accuse the government of "snooping because of what the [individuals] have said and because of who they know."

Manning has been accused by the military of leaking a video that showed two U.S. helicopters in Iraq firing at people on the ground in 2007. Jonsdottir was one of the producers of an edited version of the video.

The defense lawyers' argument that the government's request violates the First Amendment is, legal experts say, a new twist in fighting data-seizure in the world of social networking sites.

The number of court orders and subpoenas from authorities demanding that technology companies and telecommunications firms turn over information about their clients is rapidly growing. But the rules protecting personal information are spotty and not up to date with Internet technology. Experts say they were meant to deal with telephone records, not such evolving technology as e-mails and tweets.

Chris Calabrese, a lobbyist for the ACLU in Washington, said the laws pertaining to accessing communications date back to 1986.

"It is pre-www. We're using tools for accessing information on e-mail, social networking sites that were never contemplated," he said.

A spokesman for Twitter recently said the company had no comment on WikiLeaks, but he pointed to a Jan. 28 blog post. It said that the company's "position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users' right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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