On Friday, September 14, micro-blogging website Twitter handed over tweets from an Occupy Wall Street protester to a criminal court judge in New York after battling prosecutor’s subpoenas in a case drawing an enormous amount of attention due to the face-off between freedom of speech advocates and law enforcement agencies.
Twitter surrendered the inch-thick stack of tweets to Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino but will be sealed for a week while the protester, Malcolm Harris’ request for a stay is heard. The request will be heard in a higher court.
Harris, 23, was arrested during the October 2011 mass protest on Brooklyn Bridge along with hundreds of other protesters. The district attorney’s office of Manhattan want the tweets to discredit Harris’ claims that the police allegedly led protesters off the bridge’s walkways onto the actual road only to later arrest the protesters for blocking traffic.
The judge in this case rejected Twitter and Harris’ challenge to the subpoena in June, and Twitter filed an appeal which is scheduled to be heard in approximately two months time.
While Twitter and Harris argue that Harris himself should have legal standing to combat the subpoena, the judge rejected the claim, stating that Twitter is in fact the owner of the tweets and as such, records could be subpoenaed in the same way that bank records are.
Privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union are concerned that the ruling may put the onus on social networking companies to protect their users in the case of criminal prosecution.
“It’s what I would call a canary-in-a-coal-mine case,” stated Marcia Hofmann, of the EFF. “I am concerned that companies will look at this case and say it’s not a good idea to push back against governments we think are overreaching. That’s troubling.”