Iceland and Twitter stand up to US WikiLeaks probe

Jan 10, 2011
Tim Edwards

Icelandic government slams ‘intolerable’ US investigation of MP who helped Julian Assange

Iceland has protested strongly against an American investigation into one of its MPs in the first sign of serious dissent among the United States' allies over its attempts to build a case against WikiLeaks.

Birgitta Jonsdottir (above), an MP for Iceland's Movement party, is among five people who are the subject of a subpoena issued by the US Department of Justice which requires the micro-blogging website Twitter to hand over data relating to their accounts.

The other people are WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange and two volunteers for the whistleblowing website, Rop Gonggrijp and Jacob Applebaum. The subpoena also demands information regarding Bradley Manning, the US Army intelligence private who is accused of handing classified files to WikiLeaks.

Jonsdottir last year helped WikiLeaks release a shocking video of a US Army helicopter attack on innocent Iraqis. After hearing from Twitter that she was under investigation, she tweeted: "I think I am being given a message, almost like someone breathing in a phone..."

Iceland's foreign ministry has summoned the US ambassador, Luis Arreaga, to explain his country's actions.

The country's foreign minister, Oessur Skarphedinsson, told the radio station RUV there was no reason for the US investigation: "It is intolerable that an elected representative is being treated in this way," he said.

The interior minister, Ogmundur Jonasson, said it was very serious and "peculiar" that a foreign state should demand such information of an Icelandic MP.  

While the US government, embarrassed by a year of damaging revelations published by WikiLeaks, has at last met with resistance from a friendly government against its pursuit of the whistleblowing website, Twitter is being praised as a rare example of an American company prepared to stick its head above the parapet.

Until now, there had been a stampede among US companies such as Paypal, Visa and Mastercard to cut off all business with WikiLeaks.

Twitter isn't actually refusing to comply with the subpoena, but it did apply to a court for the right to tell the people concerned that they were under investigation and give them a chance to defend themselves.

WikiLeaks has suggested that Facebook and Google were probably also the target of US subpoenas and is asking if they have quietly complied. The two companies have refused to comment so far.

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