The saga of New York criminal court, Twitter, and #Occupy protestor Malcolm Harris appears to have come to a close, as Twitter has officially handed over tweets that they had been fighting to protect for months.
The story, which begins with an arrest stemming from Occupy Wall Street protests, has a few twists and turns. Here’s the recap:
In October of 2011, Malcolm Harris was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after participating in an #OWS protest on the Brooklyn Bridge. On January of 2012, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office sent a subpoena to Twitter, demanding that the company release user information and past tweets related to Harris. It later came out the prosecutors wanted Harris’ old (and currently inaccesible) tweets to try to undermine his argument that police led protesters to the Bridge and then arrested them for obstructing traffic.
A few days after receiving the subpoena, Twitter notified Harris (which is a common practice for the social network). Harris then decided to file a motion to quash that subpoena.
In a ruling handed down in April, Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. denied Harris’ motion to quash the subpoena. In short, the Judge concluded that Harris had “no proprietary interests” in his tweets. Basically, Twitter owns your tweets and because of that, even your deleted tweets can be obtained without a warrant.
Less than a month after this decision, Twitter shocked everybody when they went to bat for Harris. They filed their own motion to quash the original subpoena, arguing that Harris did in fact have proprietary interest “in the content he submits to Twitter.” Twitter also cited the Stored Communications Act, the Fourth Amendement, and the lesser known Uniform Act to Secure the Attendance of Witnesses from Without a State in Criminal Proceedings. Heavy-hitting legal stuff from the folks at Twitter.
In July, the Judge said no dice, and ordered Twitter to hand over the tweets. An appeal also went nowhere, and Twitter faced a Friday, September 14th deadline to comply with the subpoena. Otherwise, the company would face a hefty fine.
And today, Reuters reports that Twitter has complied and turned over the desired tweets.
So Twitter handed over a pile of my tweets that’ll stay sealed pending a hearing on the 21st. Bummer.
@carlfranzen Not sure what Twitter handed over, I just saw a big pile of paper.
Good on you, Twitter, for going to bat for privacy rights. Even if this failed battle only centers on some disorderly conduct charges, it sets a precedent for Twitter (and other social) networks to be forced into giving up user information on the whim of a court order. Your tweets aren’t really yours – remember that.