After months of resistance, Twitter has succumb to legal pressure to hand over the protected tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protester to a New York court. Prosecutors in the case believe the private messages undermine protester Malcolm Harris’s “not-guilty” defense that he and 700 other protesters were unknowingly lured onto the Brooklyn Bridge where they could be arrested for obstructing traffic. Even though Harris attempted to conceal the tweets, the court concluded that “If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reaosnable expectation of privacy. There is no proprietary interest in your tweets, which you have now gifted to the world.”
In October 2011, Occupy Wall Street protesters spilled onto the Brooklyn Bridge where they were arrested for disorderly conduct. Harris’s defense team argues that it was an illegal covert attempt by police to find a way to end the long standoff with authorities. However, prosecutors argue that Harris was aware of the situation, and his tweets reveal is willingness to engage in disorderly conduct.
Twitter and the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that Mr. Harris has a reasonable expectation to privacy under the 4th Amendment and should be allowed to keep his tweets private.
Though courts have held that the government can subpoena information from mediums used for public communication, so-called Electronic Communication Services (ECS), such as Twitter, Mr. Harris’s defenders argue that Twitter also acts like a private storage utility of information, a Remote Computing Service (RCS). RCSs are treated differently than ECSs under the relevant privacy law, the Stored Communications Act, because information such as one’s location, IP address, and secret messages were never intended for public consumption.
In the decision [pdf], the court concluded that some of the requested information, such as protected tweets, fall under Twitter’s role as an ECS, “The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts. What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.”
The information will remain secret to the court while Twitter’s objections are considered.
[Image Credit: asenat29]