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WikiLeaks Twitter spying may break EU privacy law

A group of European MPs will today push EU bosses to say if the US government breached European privacy laws by snooping on Twitter users with links to whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) will today pose an oral question to the European Commission, seeking clarification from the US on a subpoena demanding the micro-blogging site hand over users' account details (opens in new tab).

ALDE members want to know why US investigators demanded the information when they hadn't yet provided evidence that any crime has been committed.

"The lack of an identified illegal act and of a judicial enquiry in the US casts a shadow on the whole process of lifting the protection of citizens' privacy for the sake of national security through such subpoena orders," Romanian MEP and ALDE member, Renate Weber, said in a statement (opens in new tab).

"The EU should raise with the US authorities the fundamental issue of putting into question those persons who have not committed any crime," she added.

Twitter informed a number of users last Friday that the US Department of Justice had obtained the subpoena, known as a 2703(d) order, on 14th December. The request is part of its ongoing investigating into WikiLeaks' outing of more than 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables (opens in new tab).

US-based Twitter informed users of the demand after a court last week threw out Judge Theresa Buchanan's original gagging order, which prevented the site from notifying them of the request for access to their personal information.

The order covers a number of accounts linked to the WikiLeaks organisation, and includes those of a number of Europeans. Among the individuals affected are Dutch hacker and co-founder of Internet service provider XS4ALL, Rop Gonggrijp, and Icelandic MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir.

"It sort of feels to me as if [the Department of Justice has] become quite desperate," Jónsdóttir told a press conference in Canada yesterday. "None of us would ever use Twitter messaging to say anything sensitive."

The Twitter account of Bradley Manning, the US Army private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, was also among those facing the attentions of DoJ investigators.

ALDE, the group demanding the EU probe, is the third largest in the European Parliament, consisting of 85 MEPs, and claims to hold the balance of power between left and right in the legislature.

In addition to its request for legal clarification, the group wants a debate on the matter in the European Parliament.

ALDE's call for action comes as UK lawyers for Julian Assange warned that, if he is extradited to Sweden, the WikiLeaks founder could face illegal rendition to the United States - and, once there, execution or detention at the notorious Guantánamo Bay prison camp (opens in new tab).

A judge at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court yesterday set the date (opens in new tab) for a two-day extradition hearing, to begin on 7th February. monitors all leading technology stories and rounds them up to help you save time hunting them down.