July 03, 2012

Judge Orders Protestor to Hand Over Tweets


Who would have thought that an Occupy protest on the Brooklyn Bridge would turn into yet another heated debate over rights to privacy in the context of social media? On October 1, Malcolm Harris was among 700 protestors who were arrested and are facing charges for disregarding law enforcements’ orders to stay on the pedestrian walkway. However, the seemingly trivial charges have been overshadowed by a judges’ ruling that Harris must turn over his tweets to the DA’s office, a ruling that is loudly protested by Harris’ attorney, the ACLU and even Twitter.

Chief Assistant DA, Daniel Alonso tells the press, “We look forward to Twitter’s complying and to moving forward with the trial.” Twitter, which went to court on behalf of Harris, has made statements indicating that they do not share the DA’s enthusiasm over this coerced participation.

The Manhattan judge who ruled that Harris must turn over his tweets to prosecutors, Judge Matthew Sciarrino wrote, “If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy," accentuating his statement with hashtags.

Twitter’s legal team argued, however, that federal law requires more than just the subpoena prosecutors served Harris for obtaining tweets that are over 180 days old – they would need a search warrant as well. But Judge Sciarrino countered this by arguing that the tweets the prosecution wants are less than 180 days old.

Apparently, the prosecution believes that Harris’ tweets will provide evidence that Harris was fully aware of law enforcement’s instructions to stay on the pedestrian walkway and did not permit demonstrators to spread out onto the roadway, as some are claiming. The prosecution believes they will find evidence in Harris’ tweets that the magazine editor blatantly disregarded law enforcements’ instructions.

Debates over privacy rights and social media that end up in the courtroom, typically involve Facebook. The Social Networking Online Privacy Act (SNOPA) has protected employees and students who have voluntarily published information on Facebook from having that information used against them in the workforce or in an academic institution. SNOPA also prohibits employers or educators from snooping or coercing prospective employees or student athletes into opening their accounts for scrutiny.

Judge Sciarrino might have a point about the publicity inherent in Twitter. Similarly, other judges have ruled that “liking” something on Facebook is not protected by the First Amendment.




Edited by Brooke Neuman



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