U.S. officials have issued a subpoena to demand details about WikiLeaks' Twitter account, according to court documents obtained Saturday. WikiLeaks says other American Internet companies may also have been ordered to hand over information about its activities.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ordered San Francisco-based Twitter Inc. to hand over private messages, billing addresses and connection records of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and other alleged associates—including the U.S. Army intelligence analyst suspected of handing classified information to the site and a high-profile Icelandic parliamentarian.
Assange blasted the order, saying it amounted to harassment.
"If the Iranian government was to attempt to coercively obtain this information from journalists and activists of foreign nations, human rights groups around the world would speak out," he said in a statement.
A copy of the court order, dated Dec. 14 and sent to The Associated Press by Icelandic lawmaker Birgitta Jonsdottir, said the information sought was "relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation" and ordered Twitter not to disclose its existence to Assange or any of the others targeted.
But a second document, dated Jan. 5, unsealed the court order. The reason wasn't made explicit but WikiLeaks said it had been unsealed "thanks to legal action by Twitter."
Twitter has declined to comment on the topic, saying only that its policy is to notify its users, where possible, of government requests for information.
Those named in the order include Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private suspected of being the source of some of WikiLeaks' material, as well as Jonsdottir, a one-time WikiLeaks collaborator known for her role in pioneering Iceland's media initiative, which aims to make the North Atlantic island nation a haven for free speech.
The U.S. is also seeking details about Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp and U.S. programmer Jacob Appelbaum, both of whom have previously worked with WikiLeaks.
Assange has promised to fight the order, as has Jonsdottir, who said in a Twitter message that she had "no intention to hand my information over willingly." Appelbaum, whose Twitter feed suggested he was traveling in Iceland, said he was apprehensive about returning to the U.S.
"Time to try to enjoy the last of my vacation, I suppose," he tweeted.
Gonggrijp expressed annoyance that court officials had misspelled his last name -- and praised Twitter for notifying him and others that the U.S. had subpoenaed his details.
"It appears that Twitter, as a matter of policy, does the right thing in wanting to inform their users when one of these comes in," Gonggrijp said. "Heaven knows how many places have received similar subpoenas and just quietly submitted all they had on me."
WikiLeaks also voiced its suspicion that other organizations, such as and Google, had also been served with court orders, and urged them to "unseal any subpoenas they have received."
Google's London office did not immediately return a call and an e-mail seeking comment. Facebook did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment either.
U.S. officials have been deeply angry with WikiLeaks for months, for first releasing tens of thousands of U.S. classified military documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, then more recently posting thousands of classified U.S. diplomatic cables. U.S. officials say posting the military documents put informers' lives at risk, and that posting diplomatic cables has made other countries reluctant to deal with American officials.
WikiLeaks denies U.S. charges that its postings could put lives at risk, saying that Washington merely is acting out of embarrassment over the revelations contained in the cables.
Although its relations with the U.S. government have been ugly, WikiLeaks and its tech-savvy staff have relied on American Internet and finance companies to raise funds, disseminate material and get their message out.
WikiLeaks' frequently updated Facebook page, for example, counts 1.5 million fans and its Twitter account has a following of more than 600,000. Until recently, the group raised donations via , MasterCard Inc., and Visa, and hosted material on Amazon.com's servers.
But the group's use of American companies has come under increasing pressure as it continues to reveal U.S. secrets—with PayPal and the credit card companies severing their links with site. Amazon.com booted WikiLeaks from its servers last month.