The U.S. government has targeted a WikiLeaks volunteer using secret court orders that would force Google and Sonic, a small Internet provider, to hand over information from his email account, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The government is using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to obtain a list of email addresses from Jacob Appelbaum, the 28-year-old developer behind the Tor Project Inc., a non-profit that helps people maintain their anonymity online. The order asks Google and Sonic to turn over information from Appelbaum’s email accounts on both services.

WikiLeaks, a controversial site that has previously published highly confidential government documents including thousands of secret U.S. files and diplomatic cables, suggests people use the Tor Project to maintain their anonymity when submitting information to WikiLeaks. Appelbaum has volunteered for WikiLeaks but has not been charged for any wrongdoing.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act allows the American government to obtain information from people’s email accounts without a search warrant or notifying the person whose information is being taken. Many Internet companies (including Google and Sonic, which are involved in the Appelbaum request) have fought the act, claiming it is unconstitutional. Unlike a standard search warrant or request for information, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act only requires “reasonable grounds” that the information would be “relevant and material” to an investigation, WSJ reports.

Sonic fought the order and lost and Google declined to comment on the proceedings. However, both pressed to inform Appelbaum of the order.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act predates the Internet’s widespread usage. It was passed in 1986 before the complex ways people use the Internet today could have been anticipated. Tech companies are lobbying Congress to update the law with more rigorous conditions.


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