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Twitter Resists US Injunction To Hand Over Protester Tweets

Twitter is resisting a US injunction ordering it to hand over Tweets from an Occupy Wall Street protestor

On by Tom Jowitt 0

Twitter is resisting demands from a US court to hand over tweets by an Occupy Wall Street protester to the police.

The micro blogging service is contesting the January subpoena from a New York state court, which said that Twitter has to release tweets written by activist Malcolm Harris, who took part in the Occupy Wall Street protests last year.

Protest Tweets

Harris, who is also a senior editor of the New Inquiry website, was reportedly charged with disorderly conduct last October. He was arrested for marching across Brooklyn Bridge along with 700 other protesters.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the subpoena from New York prosecutors is seeking three months worth of tweets made by Harris, as well as some extra user information and his email address.

It seems that the prosecutors believe these Tweets made by Harris will contradict his defence that police had allowed protesters onto the road.

According to the Telegraph, Twitter is seeking to quash the court order with its own motion filed on Monday – saying its terms of service “make absolutely clear that its users own their content”. In effect Twitter is saying that the authorities should not approach it for a user’s tweets, but rather the individual themselves.

“Twitter’s terms of service make absolutely clear that its users ‘own’ their own content. Our filing with the court reaffirms our steadfast commitment to defending those rights for our users,” Ben Lee, Twitter lawyer was quoted as saying by the BBC.

This is a direct rebuff to the US judge, who ruled that once the messages had been sent (on Twitter) they became the property of Twitter.

This means, said the judge, that the defendant was not protected by Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure. Harris’s lawyer has previously tried to block access to the postings.

Free Speech Champion?

Twitter’s resistance has gained the backing of a civil liberties group in the United States, saying Twitter should be commended for defending free speech rights.

“This is a big deal. Law enforcement agencies – both the federal government and state and city entities – are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet,” said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a blog post.

“If Internet users cannot protect their own constitutional rights, the only hope is that Internet companies do so,” said the ACLU.

“That is why it is so important to encourage those companies that we all increasingly rely on to do what they can to protect their customers’ free speech and privacy rights. And that is why it is so important that the public – and other companies – know when a company actually stands up for its users’ rights,” it added.

Twitter Protests

However it should be noted that Twitter is not always viewed as being on the side of liberties.

In January this year for example it faced protests for implementing a new rule that could block tweets on a country-by country basis, if what is being said is deemed to be illegal in that country.

Of course, Twitter has also been used by some to get around restrictive local laws.

A recent case in point was the thousands of Tweeter users who used the service to reveal the name of the footballer and other celebrities who used a “super injunction” to protect their identities.

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Tom Jowitt
Author: Tom Jowitt
Freelance TechWeek Reporter
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