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Ear to the Ground

Twitter Ordered to Turn Over Occupy Protester’s Tweets

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Posted on Jul 2, 2012
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A judge in Manhattan ruled Monday that Twitter must turn over some three months’ worth of data from the account of an Occupy Wall Street protester who is being prosecuted on charges of disorderly conduct. The New York City district attorney’s office wants the tweets to determine if Malcolm Harris, a senior editor at The New Inquiry, was aware of police orders he allegedly violated.

“If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy,” Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. said in his ruling.

However, Sciarrino also said he would review the Twitter data from Harris’ account and hand over only relevant portions.

“This is a big deal,” American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Adam Fine said back in May. “It is so important to encourage those companies that we all increasingly rely on to do what they can to protect their customers’ free speech and privacy rights.”

—Posted by Tracy Bloom

The Associated Press via The Washington Post:

Harris was among more than 700 people arrested in the Brooklyn Bridge march. Police said demonstrators ignored warnings to stay on a pedestrian path and went onto the roadway. Harris, an editor for an online culture magazine, and others say they thought they had police permission to go on the roadway.

He challenged the subpoena for his tweets, saying the timespan was unreasonably broad, and although the messages were sent publicly, seeking the accompanying user information violated his privacy and free association rights. The data could give prosecutors a picture of his followers, their interactions through replies and retweets, and his location at various points, Stolar said.

... Then San Francisco-based Twitter went to court on Harris’ behalf, saying he had every right to fight the subpoena. Its user agreements say that users retain rights to content they post and can challenge demands for their records, and it would be “a new and overwhelming burden” for Twitter to have to champion such causes for them, the company argued in a court filing.

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