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.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here