Monday, July 02, 2012

Careful what you tweet!

Occupy Wall Street protester's Tweets Must be Turned over
Monday, July 2, 2012
By Pervaiz Shallwani

A Manhattan judge ruled on Monday that Twitter has to turn over more than three months worth of an Occupy Wall Street protester’s tweets, which are expected to be used against him in a criminal trial.

In an 11-page ruling, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. said that he understands that social media and the law around it are evolving, but the right to post updates on Twitter comes with “consequences.”

“The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts,” wrote judge Sciarrino. “What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.”

As the Wall Street Journal reported in March, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has subpoenaed the tweets in the case against Malcom Harris, who used Twitter under the account @destructuremal.

Harris was charged with disorderly conduct Oct. 1, 2011 after he was accused of marching on the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge during a mass demonstration related to the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Twitter had moved to quash the request from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, arguing that like email, Twitter users have a reasonable expectation of privacy under the fourth amendment. The judge disagreed, saying “if you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

“We are disappointed in the judge’s decision and are considering our options,” Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner said via email. “Twitter’s Terms of Service have long made it absolutely clear that its users *own* their content. We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights.”

The decision is the most recent move by Manhattan prosecutors to use social media, one of the Occupy movement’s principal organizing tools, to prosecute defendants. In Twitter updates of 140 characters or fewer, protesters organize events and warn others about law enforcement activity. Prosecutors believe that in doing so, protesters like Harris have revealed an intent to break laws.

Sciarrino ordered Twitter to turn over tweets posted by Harris between September 15, 2011 and December 30, 2011. The court will then inspect the tweets and turn over “relevant portions” to the district attorney’s office.

The district attorney is then required to provide the tweets to defense attorney as part of trial process.

Sciarrino’s ruling against Twitter comes three month after he ruled that Harris does not have the right to quash the subpoena. He compared a Twitter account to having a bank account, ruling that individuals cannot stop banks from turning over records under a court order.

“We look forward to Twitter’s complying and to moving forward with the trial,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel Alonso.


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