Iceland has voiced concern over the US investigation into WikiLeaks after a court order sought information on the internet activity of an Icelandic lawmaker with ties to the whistleblower website.
The US ambassador to Reykjavik has been summoned to explain why the US justice department asked Twitter, the social networking site, for private data on Birgitta Jonsdottir, a parliamentarian and freedom of information activist.
“[It is] very serious that a foreign state, the United States, demands such personal information of an Icelandic person, an elected official,” Ogmundur Jonasson, interior minister, told Icelandic television on Sunday.
Icelandic anger over the investigation marks the first serious sign of international dissent against US efforts to build a legal case against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, after its publication of thousands of confidential diplomat cables and classified documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Icelandic foreign ministry said it had summoned Luis Arreaga, US ambassador, to discuss the issue. It was not clear when the meeting would take place.
Ms Jonsdottir, part of the grassroots Citizens’ Movement that sprang up after Iceland’s 2008 financial crisis, worked with WikiLeaks on its release in April of video footage of a US bombing in which Iraqi civilians and a Reuters cameraman were killed.
While Ms Jonsdottir is part of Iceland’s radical left, politicians from across the spectrum have leapt to her defence and accused the US of heavy-handedness.
The row shows how the disruption in US international relations sparked by the latest WikiLeaks papers continues to echo with the probe of how information was disseminated in the first place.
But the US is pressing ahead, with a court-approved demand against Twitter, which makes public a secret grand jury inquiry has progressed beyond oral testimony from government figures investigating accused leaker Bradley Manning, a private in military intelligence.
Court documents disclosed over the weekend included an order by a federal judge in northern Virginia, where the grand jury is based, directing Twitter to hand over information it had on Ms Jonsdottir, Mr Manning, Mr Assange and two others who have worked with WikiLeaks.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that the records or other information sought are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation,” a judge wrote in a then-sealed December 14 order first published by the website Salon.com.
The document directs messaging service Twitter to disclose street and electronic addresses, phone numbers and screen names associated with the three plus US supporter Jacob Appelbaum and Dutch activist Rop Gonggrijp.
Mr Assange said he would contest the demand, which only came to light after Twitter fought and won the right to disclose the order to some of the targeted users. He also asked Google and Facebook to reveal whether they had received similar orders. Officials at those companies did not respond to requests for comment.
“It is our policy to notify users about law enforcement and governmental requests for their information, unless we are prevented by law from doing so,” Jodi Olson, Twitter spokeswoman, said. Internet activists who have rallied to the WikiLeaks cause praised Twitter’s actions, which follow its refusal to disable WikiLeaks’ accounts.
Other US technology companies under pressure from politicians have dropped the group as a client, although it has yet to be charged with any criminal offence.
Ms Jonsdottir said via a Twitter message that she would also contest the demand and was consulting US lawyers. “I have nothing to hide and have done nothing wrong,” she wrote to followers. “I have no intention to hand my information over willingly.”
Eric Holder, US attorney general, has said the department of justice is looking into whether WikiLeaks broke the law in obtaining some 250,000 diplomatic cables or publishing some of them, though these court documents appear to focus on the helicopter video, which Ms Jonsdottir and Mr Gonggrijp helped publish.
The cables have prompted countless stories exposing international policy machinations. The state department said on Friday that it has acted to relocate some people in other countries whose cooperation with the US could be exposed by the cables.
Because the US Bill of Rights has been interpreted as protecting the publication of information classified by the government as secret, it is believed that prosecutors are looking at other charges, such as whether Mr Assange and others conspired with Mr Manning as he allegedly downloaded the cables and transmitted them.
Phone and email records could help prosecutors piece together whether Mr Assange or the others had advance knowledge of Mr Manning’s plans or provided technical assistance that made it easier for him to disclose the documents.
But Mark Stephens, Mr Assange’s London lawyer, told the Financial Times that the probe will not bear fruit.
“Julian Assange has committed no offence and neither has any of the other WikiLeaks staff. The DoJ knows that. If the DoJ thought it could have brought a charge, it would have done so some time ago,” Mr Stephens said.
Mr Stephens said the officials were using “bullyboy” tactics to harass people and that their conduct raised issues over privacy and the rights of reporters to protect their sources.
Sought in connection with sex charges in Sweden, Mr Assange has been released on bail in the UK.
He is expected to appear in court on Tuesday for a short hearing on those allegations, which he maintains are false and politically inspired.
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