A New York judge this week ordered Twitter to hand over months of tweets from an Occupy Wall St. protester. Malcolm Harris, the protester, was arrested while trying to cross the Brooklyn Bridge with hundreds of other protesters in October of last year. The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that the prosecution for his case want his tweets to prove that he and his fellow protesters knew that they were not allowed on the roadway of the bridge.
Twitter has so far refused to hand over the tweets, which were originally public, but have since been pushed off Harris’ Twitter page by subsequent tweets. The crux of the conflict is over whether the tweets are Harris’ property or Twitter’s. Twitter maintains, as it does in its user agreement, that all content posted to its platform is owned by its creator, and therefore Harris has the right to challenge the subpoena of his tweets.
The judge in the case decided that Harris did not have a “proprietary intrest” for the tweets and does not have standing to challenge the subpoena. Prosecutors also argued that, as the tweets were originally posted publicly, Harris could not now invoke privacy rights to them.
Another worry for Twitter is that, if it is forced to supply the tweets in this case, it will have to comply with more requests in the future and have to go to court to defend more of its members. As its recent transparency report shows, Twitter has been receiving an increasing number of requests from governments for user data, and overwhelmingly so from the U.S.
It is laudable and perhaps rare to see a company go to court for its members the way Twitter is in this case. Twitter, whether or not it is correct in this case, deserves praise for not simply rolling over for a prosecutor’s subpoena. According to the AP, the company is currently evaluating its next legal move regarding the case.