In its "active criminal investigation" of WikiLeaks, the US government is using secret court orders to force Google and Internet service providers to turn over information about editor Jacob Appelbaum, reports the Wall Street Journal. Appelbaum has not been charged with any crimes related to his WikiLeaks work, but government officials have obtained an order to obtain the email addresses—although not the emails themselves—of everyone Appelbaum has communicated with over the past two years. The small ISP Sonic fought the order but lost, with the company's president saying it was "rather expensive, but we felt it was the right thing to do."
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act—passed in 1986, before the invention of the World Wide Web and most modern communications devices—does little to protect privacy on the Internet, allowing investigators to gather email and other information from people without a warrant, showing probable cause, or notifying the person being investigated. Critics say it violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. In the last six months of 2010, Google says it received 4,601 requests from the government to see user data, and complied with 94% of those requests. (Read more WikiLeaks stories.)