22 Jun 2013

US Used a Secret Search Warrant to Get WikiLeaks Volunteer's Gmail

The Justice Department used a secret search warrant to obtain the entire contents of a Gmail account used by a former WikiLeaks volunteer in Iceland, according to court records released to the volunteer this week.

The search warrant was issued under seal on October 14, 2011 by the Alexandria, Virginia federal judge overseeing the WikiLeaks grand jury investigation there. The warrant ordered Google to turn over “the contents of all e-mails associated with the account, including stored or preserved copies of e-mails sent to and from the account, draft e-mails, deleted e-mails [...] the source and destination addresses associated with each e-mail, the date and time at which each e-mail was sent, and the size and length of each e-mail.” The warrant also ordered Google not to disclose the search to anyone.

wikileaks archives

The target of the search was Herbert Snorrason, an Icelandic activist who helped manage WikiLeaks’ secure chat room in 2010. Snorrason was one of the WikiLeaks volunteers who resigned from the organization en masse in September 2010. But that evidently didn’t stop the government from grabbing Snorrason’s email a full year later.

The search is the first confirmed case of the government obtaining the contents of a WikiLeaks-connected e-mail account. The government won a public court battle in January 2012 to obtain non-content metadata from the Twitter accounts of three WikiLeaks associates: Seattle coder and activist Jacob Appelbaum; Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Iceland’s parliament; and Dutch businessman Rop Gonggrijp. The feds also got metadata on Appelbaum from Google and the ISP Sonic.net.

In those cases, the government got the records under 18 USC 2703(d), a 1994 amendment to the Stored Communications Act that allows law enforcement access to non-content internet records, such as transaction information, without demonstrating the “probable cause” needed for a search warrant.

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