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A Santa Rosa-based Internet provider complied with a secret court order to give the U.S. government information about a former Sonoma County man whose work with WikiLeaks has made him a target for those opposed to the group's practice of anonymously releasing sensitive data.

Dane Jasper, chief executive of Sonic.net, confirmed Monday that his company fought unsuccessfully in court to prevent turning over every email address that Jacob Appelbaum had corresponded with in the past two years.

Appelbaum, a former ArtQuest student at Santa Rosa High School, is the only known American member of WikiLeaks and is considered one of the world's foremost authorities on Internet privacy.

The 28-year-old Appelbaum has come a long way since his formative years in Sonoma County, where he was bounced around group homes, homeless shelters and bus stops with his heroin-addicted father, according to a 2010 profile in Rolling Stone magazine.</CW>

Jan Sofie, ArtQuest's director, said Monday she was aware of Appelbaum's hardscrabble youth but remembers him mostly as "a very nice kid with exceptional manners."

Appelbaum did not respond to messages on Monday seeking comment. But on his Twitter account, he posted that "state terrorism of our individual lives is the most relevant terrorism to everyday Americans. We must resist it at every opportunity."

His Facebook page describes him as a computer researcher and "hacker." He also is a staff research scientist at the University of Washington Computer Security and Privacy Research Lab.

The case involving Appelbaum highlights debate over the tactics employed by WikiLeaks and by its detractors, including the government's ability to covertly obtain online information using a 1986 law that was enacted prior to deployment of the World Wide Web.

"It highlights the disconnect between the federal law that governs electronic privacy and the state of contemporary technology," said Ryan Calo, director of privacy and robotics at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society.

The case was first reported Monday by the Wall Street Journal, which said it had reviewed court documents showing that the government obtained a secret order to force Sonic and Google to turn over information from Appelbaum's email accounts.

Appelbaum, who went public with his work on behalf of WikiLeaks last year, was under government scrutiny after the organization released thousands of pages of classified government diplomatic cables last year. Attorney General Eric Holder subsequently confirmed that his office had launched a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks.

For Appelbaum, that meant being regularly searched and interrogated every time he left the U.S. and returned home. He told a Seattle interviewer in April that a U.S. Army interrogator joked that he didn't think Appelbaum would do well in prison, an apparent reference to accused whistle-blower Bradley Manning, who is being held at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., on suspicion of being the source of the WikiLeaks document dump.

The U.S. government in December obtained a court order for information from Appelbaum's Twitter account similar to what was sought from his Sonic and Gmail accounts. Appelbaum has appealed a judge's decision siding with the government in that case.

Appelbaum told Rolling Stone that his first hacking experience was when he was 8 and an older boy at a Sonoma County children's home taught him how to lift the PIN code from a security keypad. He said the boys broke out one night after disabling the system.

Appelbaum also described hanging out at the Santa Rosa Plaza dressed in drag and begging for change. He said the experience of never having any privacy as a child is the reason he so jealously guards his now and advocates for it on behalf of others.

"The Internet is the only reason I'm alive today," Appelbaum told the interviewer.

Today, Appelbaum is the main spokesman for Tor Project, Inc., a Walpole, Mass., nonprofit that helps people use the Internet anonymously. The program, which was developed 15 years ago by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, has been used by people around the world who are living under repressive government regimes.

<CW-28>There is some irony then in U.S. government officials now coming after Appelbaum. They are doing so using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which allows law enforcement to obtain some emails, cellphone-location records and other digital documents without getting a search warrant or showing probable cause that a crime has been committed.

</CW>The subject of the court order often has no clue that the information was sought or obtained. An Internet provider also is usually prevented from alerting its customer that it has complied with the order.

Critics have attacked the law for violating the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, while several major Internet companies, including Google, are urging Congress to update the act.

Calo said the law was written prior to the development of technology such as location-tracking cellphones and services that allow people to store information on remote servers.

While the case involving Appelbaum does not break new legal ground, Calo said it is striking nevertheless because it reveals publicly the kind of information that increasingly is being obtained by the government behind closed doors.

He said he wishes the government "would have applied the same zeal to secure the information that they are using to prosecute this case."

<CW-17>The secret Sonic order is dated April 15 and directs the Santa Rosa-based Internet provider to turn over the IP — or "Internet protocol" — address from which Appelbaum logged into his account and the email and IP addresses of the users with whom he communicated dating back to Nov. 1, 2009, the Journal reported.</CW>

Google would not say whether it complied.

Jasper wrote in an email Monday that he could not comment specifically on the case.

While Sonic lost its fight to prevent the disclosure, Jasper wrote that the company succeeded in getting the court to lift the seal so that Appelbaum could be made aware of the case, which otherwise remains under seal.

Jasper wrote that Sonic "responds to law enforcement orders as required, while also working to preserve customer privacy and provide notification."

The company, which has 36,152 retail customers, made changes to its privacy policies this year, but not in direct response to the Appelbaum case, Jasper wrote.

He stated that the company now retains most customer data — including most IP addresses — for only two weeks, after which time it is automatically deleted.

"We believe that minimizing retention of customer private information protects our customers, and we've made policy decisions to support that," Jasper wrote.

But he also noted that law enforcement can file an order seeking to have that data preserved for 90 days, pending a subsequent court decision.