On Monday, Manhattan criminal court Judge Matthew Sciarrino ordered Twitter to hand over data on a user that was involved in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement last year. The judge compared tweets to shouting in public, stating that they are not private information and may be collected by local law enforcement as evidence.
Malcolm Harris is currently being prosecuted for disorderly conduct in connection with the Occupy Wall Street protest on the Brooklyn Bridge last year. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other parties are currently watching the case, citing it as a test of free speech online. They also point out that the Twitter subpoena provides more than Harris' comments: it coughs up his location over a three-and-a-half month period, and his personal email address.
According to the judge, tweets are not private information based on how they are delivered: unlike private messages, the comments are on display for anyone to read whether it's by a Twitter user or via a Google search. Because they're so "open," the tweets are not subject to the constitutional guarantee of privacy.
"The constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts," he stated. "What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you."
Twitter tried to protect Harris' information, asking the court to dismiss the subpoena. The judge refused, but did grant Twitter the ability to protect anything tweeted before December 31, or more than 180 days old, without a search warrant. Still, Twitter isn't happy: handing over information is a violation of its own terms.
"We are disappointed in the judge's decision and are considering our options," Twitter stated on Monday. "Twitter's terms of service have long made it absolutely clear that its users 'own' their content. We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights."
ACLU attorney Aden Fine warns that the subpoena covers all of the user's tweets (which is no longer available on Twitter), and his account information including his personal email address and IP addresses. "The government shouldn't be able to get this sensitive and constitutionally protected information without a warrant and without first satisfying First Amendment scrutiny," Fine said.
The ACLU said it hopes the decision is eventually overturned. Meanwhile, Twitter said it was studying its next move.