When it comes to the Wikileaks saga, we’ve been trying to only report on it if it crosses into the realm of technology. It was revealed yesterday and today that the US Justice Department has sent subpoenas to Twitter, demanding the personal information of several Wikileaks supporters who use Twitter. One of them is a member of the Icelandic parliament.
In a way, it is incredibly ironic that the country with the most free press in the world is also the country where this story came out. The AlÃ¾ingi, the Icelandic parliament, is the oldest still functioning parliament in the world. Save for 45 years between 1799 and 1844, the AlÃ¾ingi has been continuously active since its founding in 930. Its current home, the AlÃ¾ingishÃºsiÃ°, also happens to be one of the most beautiful and elegantly understated parliament buildings in the world. But I digress (Iceland fascinates me immensely).
Birgitta JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir, member of the Icelandic parliament and former Wikileaks activist, revealed on her Twitter account that she had been notified by Twitter via email that the US Justice Department had asked for the details of her Twitter account. In the email, Twitter also pointed her to several lawyers who could help her, while also warning her that Twitter must comply with the subpoena, unless the issue is handled or “a motion to quash the legal process has been filed”. Apart from JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir, the subpoena also covers Assange himself, as well as Rop Gonggrijp and Jacob Appelbaum, two programmers.
Twitter has handled this matter incredibly graciously. Originally, the subpoena was sealed, meaning the company could not divulge its existence to the people involved. Twitter decided to fight this, and managed to get the documents unsealed on January 5. It was originally filed December 14, by the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Now that the people involved have been notified, they have ten days to stop this legally before Twitter hands over the information.
JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir has promised to fight this with all she’s got. “The justice department has gone completely over the top,” she told The Guardian, “It’s not just about my information. It’s a warning for anyone who had anything to do with WikiLeaks. It is completely unacceptable for the US justice department to flex its muscles like this. I am lucky, I’m a representative in parliament. But what of other people? It’s my duty to do whatever I can to stop this abuse.”
Because she’s in parliament, she obviously has access to people no one else ever would have. JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir has already spoken with Iceland’s minister of foreign affairs, minister of justice, and the president of the Icelandic parliament. Iceland’s minister of justice has asked for a meeting with the American ambassador to Iceland about the issue.
“It is so sad,” JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir told The New York Times, “I have so many friends in the U.S., and there are so many things that I respect about it. This is not how America wants to present itself to the world.” Perfectly describes how I am personally conflicted about the US – such a great country with such kind and nice people (there is no sarcasm here), ruined by an incredibly thick government (whether Democratic or Republican).
While Iceland is only a small country, it’s still a member of NATO, and this could most certainly turn into a diplomatic incident, especially because most of the people in the subpoena are not US citizens. All this leads to the curious scenario where the DoJ’s actions do more harm to diplomatic relations than any of the leaked cables ever did.
How delightfully ironic.
Glenn Greenwald makes a very good case that the subpoena is focussed on the release of the “Collateral Murder” video, depicting the murder of several civilians and journalists by US soldiers. This means that the US DoJ is putting more effort into finding those that uncovered the potential war crime than into prosecuting the soldiers that did the killing (or their superiors). This way, in my opinion, the US seems to find the uncovering of potential war crimes more of a problem than war crimes themselves.
“The DOJ’s investigation of a member of Iceland’s Parliament – as part of an effort to intimidate anyone supporting WikiLeaks and to criminalize journalism that exposes what the US Government does – is one of the most extreme acts yet in the Obama administration’s always-escalating war on whistleblowers, and shows how just excessive and paranoid the administration is when it comes to transparency,” he writes, “All this from a President who ran on a vow to have the ‘most transparent administration in history‘ and to ‘Protect Whistleblowers‘.”
It’s further worth pointing out that Iceland is the polar opposite to the US when it comes to government transparency. Iceland is committed to protecting the freedom of the press and whistleblowers via the Modern Media Initiative, considered the strongest journalist protection law in the world. The main sponsor of this law? Exactly – JÃ³nsdÃ³ttir.
While critical of some of Wikileaks’ activities, Iceland’s minister of interior Ã–gmundur JÃ³nasson stated that “if we manage to make government transparent and give all of us some insight into what is happening in countries involved in warfare it can only be for the good”.
Every country needs a Modern Media Initiative. As tiny a country as Iceland may be, I consider it to be a beacon of hope when it comes to the freedom of the press, the web, and government transparency. The US legally fighting the Iceland MP at the forefront of the fight for these ideals is so incredibly ironic it makes my brain explode.