Twitter Gives Up Protester's Tweets -- But Takes Fight Over Judge's Head
Faced with the prospect of contempt charges, Twitter today gave a New York City judge information connected with the account of Occupy New York protester Malcolm Harris.
But the case is far from over. Twitter is appealing the order requiring it to hand over Harris' information to a higher court. Meanwhile, Criminal Court Justice Matthew Sciarrino Jr. has said he will keep the material sealed until at least next week, when another judge will hear arguments about whether Sciarrino's order was proper, the Village Voice reports.
The dispute stems from a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge. Harris was among hundreds of protesters who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for walking in the street instead of the sidewalk. Harris says the police told the protesters to move to the street.
The Manhattan District Attorney hopes that Harris’ tweets will refute that claim -- though it's not clear how. Regardless, the prosecutor subpoenaed Twitter records related to Harris’s account from Sept. 15 through Dec. 31. The prosecutors sought not only Harris's tweets, but other data like IP addresses.
Harris moved to quash the subpoena. Sciarrino initially denied that motion on the ground that Twitter -- not Harris -- owns the material.
Twitter itself then sought to quash the subpoena, arguing that the prosecutor should obtain a search warrant, not just a subpoena. Search warrants generally require law enforcement officials to show they have probable cause to believe the material will yield evidence of a crime. A subpoena only requires the authorities to show they will find relevant information.
Sciarrino rejected all of Twitter's arguments, ruling that Harris has no expectation of privacy in his tweets because they were public at one time. "If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy," Sciarrino wrote.
Twitter has appealed that decision to the Appellate Term. Among other arguments, Twitter says that if Harris's tweets really were publicly available, the government would have been able to access them without a subpoena. "It is illogical to conclude that Defendant’s Tweets are publicly available, while at the same time concluding that the government is unable to obtain copies of the Tweets on its own," the company argues.
The Appellate Term is scheduled to hear arguments on the case in November.