Over the last month or so, we spent a lot of time going over the huge number of mistakes that the US government made in seizing a variety of domain names, supposedly for copyright infringement. Now, with the government seeking all sorts of info to build their legal case against Julian Assange and Wikileaks, it’s time to look at the mistakes the government is making there as well. Following up on the news that came out late last week of the government seeking info from Twitter, Christopher Soghoian has done a nice job highlighting some of the details and problems with the court order, some of which seem reminiscent of the problems with the domain seizures — meaning technical and legal errors, and a filing prepared by a rather surprisingly inexperienced government representative.
The 2703(d) order misspelled the names of one of the targets, Rop Gonggrijp. It also requested credit card and bank account numbers of several Twitter users, even though Twitter is a free service and so doesn’t have such information (presumably someone at DOJ knows a little about Twitter, since the agency has 350,000 followers of its official Twitter account).
The Department of Justice prosecutor named in the order, Tracy Doherty-McCormick, was prosecuting online child exploitation cases just five months before the Twitter order was issued. Given that the wikileaks investigation is the most high-profile national security investigation of the decade, and that the court order seeks records associated with an Icelandic member of parliament, you would think that DOJ would assign this case to someone more senior.
He also notes that the government must realize that three of the individuals named are computer security experts who probably used pretty strong encryption, so it’s unlikely this info will turn up much. Soghoian also points out the oddity of using this process to try to get info, as it would seem that there are much more reasonable ways that the government could request and get the same info.
I do wonder how much of these errors and sloppiness are due to basic rushing to try to get stuff done, or due to incompetence. Perhaps the government knows that it will get these kinds of things approved almost no matter what, so it doesn’t even try.
Perhaps there is another reason. Perhaps it is all pro forma and they really aren’t trying very hard.
No. More likely incompetence. But the scary thing is that these sorts of mistakes in legal documents apparently happens all the time.