A judge in Manhattan ordered Twitter to hand over more than three months of tweets from an Occupy Wall Street protester. The tweets will be used by the prosecution in a pending trial.
Writer Malcolm Harris, the protester, was arrested last fall for disorderly conduct during a march down the Brooklyn Bridge. At the time, he sent out a number of tweets that have since been deleted. He was one of around 700 protesters arrested.
Judge Matthew Sciarrino rejected the notion that Twitter messages, which are posted in the public domain, are protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which outlines individual privacy and what constitutions a violation.
“If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. There is no proprietary interest in your tweets, which you have now gifted to the world,” Sciarrino said in his ruling, which was handed down on Saturday, but made public on Monday.
A Twitter message “is not the same as a private email, a private direct message, a private chat, or any of the other readily available ways to have a private conversation via the Internet that now exist,” he said. Private messages would require a court-mandated search warrant that is based on probable cause.
“What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you,” Sciarrino wrote.
The decision was assailed by privacy groups and by Twitter, which attempted to quash the Manhattan district attorney’s office’s subpoena to obtain Harris’s tweets.
Harris’s subpoenaed account was cleared and then restarted. It is the second time the court has ruled that Harris’s tweets should be turned over.
“We are disappointed in the judge’s decision and are considering our options. 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,” Twitter said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that Twitter should be applauded for their effort to challenge the subpoena.
“The request covers all of the user’s tweets (no longer available on Twitter), as well as his subscriber information, which includes his personal email address, the IP addresses he used to access Twitter—that can be correlated with the user’s geographic locations over time,” ACLU senior staff attorney Aden Fine wrote on Monday.
Fine said that the prosecution “shouldn’t be able to get this sensitive and constitutionally protected information without a warrant and without first satisfying First Amendment scrutiny,” noting that the district attorney’s office in this case did not fulfill those requirements.
Harris said he is not sure what he should do next. “It’s shocking they’re still pouring these kind of state resources down the drain over a politicized traffic ticket,” he told New York Magazine.
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