Twitter Fights Order To Disclose Occupy Protester Tweets

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The blue bird doesn’t snitch on its users

Twitter has appealed against a New York Supreme Court decision that ordered it to hand over tweets deleted by an Occupy Wall Street protester  to the authorities.

On 30 June, federal judge Matthew Sciarrino told the company to release tweets made by Occupy protester Malcolm Harris from September 15 to December 30. Harris was arrested with about 700 other protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge in October last year, and charged with disorderly conduct. Twitter has promised to fight the decision, as it believes it is threatening the constitutional rights of its users.

The outcome of the case could set an important precedent for future information requests by US law enforcement.

Fight for your right

In January, Twitter received a subpoena from a New York state court, which told it to release tweets written by Harris. The authorities requested more than three months’ worth of messages, as well as IP addresses corresponding to each post, and Harris’ email address.

Twitter informed Harris of the subpoena, and he filed a motion to quash it. A judge denied the motion on April 20, and the company decided to submit an appeal to a higher court.

After the April ruling, Twitter had updated its Terms & Conditions to state that its users keep all the rights to any content they submit. It had also launched a Transparency Report, inspired by “the great work done by our peers @Google”, that will publish statistics on the number of information requests and takedown notices sent to the company every six months.

Sciarrino believes that since information on Twitter has already been released to the public, it cannot be considered private and should be handed over. He also compared social media platforms to witnesses of street crimes, suggesting they have a moral duty to help the justice system.

However, Twitter has argued that the Occupy protester tweets can’t be considered “public” since they cannot be accessed at this time.

“At Twitter, we are committed to fighting for our users,” Twitter’s legal counsel Ben Lee told Bloomberg in an e-mailed statement. ‘‘Accordingly, we are appealing this decision which, in our view, doesn’t strike the right balance between the rights of our users and the interests of law enforcement.”

Earlier, Twitter said it was “put in the untenable position of either providing user communications and account information in response to all subpoenas or attempting to vindicate its users’ rights by moving to quash these subpoenas itself.” It is obvious that the company chose the second option.

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