Occupy protester's tweets must be handed over: judge

NEW YORK Mon Jul 2, 2012 4:51pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York judge has ordered Twitter to hand over tweets and account information connected with an Occupy Wall Street protester arrested last fall during a march on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino, who is overseeing the hundreds of criminal cases stemming from Occupy-related arrests, rejected the idea that Twitter would violate protester Malcolm Harris' privacy by turning over the information.

"If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy," the judge wrote in his decision. He said he would review the information himself and release relevant portions to both prosecutors and Harris' lawyer.

The Saturday ruling, released on Monday, marks the second time in three months that Sciarrino has rejected an attempt to quash a subpoena in the case.

Prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney's office have been seeking Harris' tweets from September to December, saying the posts demonstrate he knew police had ordered protesters not to walk on the bridge's roadway.

Defense lawyers for some of the 700 Occupy members arrested during the October 1 march have suggested that police appeared to escort them onto the bridge before taking them into custody.

Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner said the company was disappointed by the ruling and would consider its legal options.

"Twitter's Terms of Service have long made it absolutely clear that its users 'own' their content," she said in an emailed statement. "We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights."

In April, Sciarrino found that Harris, a Brooklyn-based writer, lacked standing to fight the subpoena because his information belonged to Twitter. The company then filed its own motion to quash on behalf of Harris.

Twitter's motion indicates a willingness to stand up for the rights of a member, as protesters around the world have used the service to organize their efforts in recent years. In March, a judge ordered Twitter to hand over information about an account police said was indirectly tied to the Occupy Boston movement.

Daniel Alonso, Manhattan's chief assistant district attorney, said in a statement that prosecutors were pleased by the latest ruling and "look forward to Twitter's complying and to moving forward with the trial."

Martin Stolar, Harris' lawyer, said he was considering whether to appeal, saying Sciarrino should not use what he termed "pre-21st century law" to evaluate issues of modern technology.

Sciarrino said the request for data did not violate Harris' privacy rights and that the Stored Communications Act governing disclosure of electronic data protects only private communications.

"The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts," he said. "What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you."

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Von Ahn)

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Comments (2)
usagadfly wrote:
What Twitter should do is to sell itself to a Foreign corporation which does not register in the USA. Then it should surrender the corporate charter and listing, thus vanishing as a US entity. Then the foreign company can establish an American company which it owns less than half of and which passes electronic communications out of the country for redistribution wherever. It ought to be forbidden by contract to keep any records of the communications.

The USA does not believe in privacy for citizens possessing less than a billion dollars. Get used to it. The law is, simply, that might makes right. You have no might? Then you cannot be right.

Jul 02, 2012 6:18pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Felder2 wrote:
It seems silly that anyone posting on a broadcast service should expect to have their posts be considered private.

Jul 02, 2012 6:38pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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