WikiLeaks slams Google for handing over staffers' data to US

WikiLeaks slams Google for handing over staffers' data to US

WikiLeaks slams Google for handing over staffers' data to US

WikiLeaks has lashed out at internet giant Google for handing over its staffers' emails and digital data to the US authorities without swiftly informing the whistleblowing site, terming it "an attack on journalism and journalists especially those working on security issues".

Baltazar Garzon, Director of WikiLeaks' co-founder Julian Assange's defence team, yesterday referred the handing over of data "an attack on journalism and journalists especially those working on security issues", saying the dangerous implication is that "anything that has to do with whistleblowing is being differentiated from journalism".

On December 24 last year, Google informed WikiLeaks that it handed over the information under secret search warrants issued by a US federal judge in March 2012, almost two and a half years after the incident.

The warrants, citing an espionage, fraud and conspiracy investigation, required the web giant to hand over the phone numbers, IP addresses, credit card details, contents of all emails and other details for Google accounts used by three of WikiLeaks staffers, Sarah Harrison, Kristinn Hrafnsson and Joseph Faerrell.

The data collected contained all correspondence prior to March 22, 2012.
According to the WikiLeaks lawyers, the warrant for email data says that the US Justice department is investigating WikiLeaks for "conspiracy to commit espionage".

Garzon added that it is difficult to believe that a case like this exists in the 21st century and said the UN Special Rapporteur is mandated by Human Rights Council resolution to protect against harassment directed at a person's freedom of opinion and expression including as a matter of high priority such harassment against journalists.

Hrafsson said journalists cannot assume that any correspondence is safe and have to encrypt to ensure safety of their sources.

"If you are working against the other side of the Atlantic there is a real possibility of being branded a terrorist through the outdated Espionage Act of 1917," he said.

Hrafsson had around 35,000 emails in his Inbox including deleted ones from the time he was working as a journalist in Iceland.

The legal team of Assange has shot off three letters - one to Google Chairperson Eric Schmidt, second to Attorney General of the US Eric Holder and third to the eastern court of Virginia.

In a letter to Schmidt, Garzon has asked for "an inventory" of everything that Google has provided to the US authorities. The legal team is also currently exploring legal possibilities against Google and the US government.

Garzon, who is also known for issuing an international arrest warrant against former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, said as a jurist, he is shocked by the behaviour of the US, the UK and Sweden.

Julian Assange has not been charged but has been treated worse than a detainee in a prison, he added.

Assange faces rape and sexual assault allegations in Sweden. After losing his appeal to the UK's Supreme Court in June 2012 against extradition to Sweden, he took refuge in the embassy of Ecuador in London which granted him asylum. He has been living there since. Garzon says he fears Assange will go the Bradley Manning way if he even steps out of the embassy.

Sweden, whose human rights records were reviewed in the universal periodic review yesterday, did not respond to Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay's recommendations to limit the time spent in pre-trial detention when there has not yet been a charge and to protect defendants when they are in a situation of asylum.

Sweden's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Annika Soder called the Assange case a complex matter and unfortunate situation, saying the matter is out of the government's hands and is upto the legal authorities to decide.

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