Twitter defies court order to release personal information of Occupy protester

Aug 28, 2012

Attorneys for Twitter have filed an appeal on the behalf of one of their users in the latest installment of an ongoing legal battle over some seriously-wanted tweets.

Prosecutors have been hounding Twitter for the tweets sent from the account of Malcolm Harris, a 23-year-old writer from Brooklyn, since earlier this year in hopes of hardening their case. In October, Harris was one of the hundreds of people arrested by the New York Police Department after protesters with Occupy Wall Street waged a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.The District Attorney for Manhattan then asked Twitter for Harris’ user info, IP logs and tweets published before and after the event when the case went before a judge in January, but seven months later the social networking suite has refused to give in.

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. demands that Twitter deliver the information in July, but more than one month later the site shows no sign of following orders. On Monday, Twitter asked the judge to reconsider by way of an appeal filed with the New York Supreme Court.

The government is going after the Tweets “to refute the defendant’s anticipated defense, that the police either led or escorted the defendant into stepping onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge,” which landed Harris with a disorderly conduct charge last year. In response, though, Twitter says, “public information which would allow law enforcement to draw mere inferences about a citizen’s thoughts and associations are entitled to Constitutional protection, thus establishing that a citizen’s substantive communications are certainly entitled to the same protection.”

“Twitter users own their Tweets and should have the right to fight invalid government requests,” the appeal reads. The service adds that the demand for its personal user data is just the latest example of “law enforcement’s increased use of information from social media companies in criminal prosecutions,” and claims that Harris’ info is protected from search and seizure under the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

Twitter’s attorneys say, “because the government admits that it cannot publicly access” the tweets, the “Defendant maintains a reasonable expectation of privacy in his communications.”

In the government’s order back in July for Twitter to hand over the records, Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. wrote, “If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy,” adding, “There is no proprietary interest in your tweets, which you have now gifted to the world.”

In a tweet of his own, Twitter attorney Ben Lee tells his followers that the company believes its users are the owners of their messages, and says, “we continue to stand with them in that fight.”

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