Judge to Twitter: Turn Over Writer's Protest Tweets

Malcolm Harris' tweets not protected speech, judge rules
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser User
Posted Jul 3, 2012 2:26 AM CDT
Updated Jul 3, 2012 4:00 AM CDT
A line of cops block protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge during a march by Occupy Wall Street late last year.   (AP Photo/Will Stevens, File)
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(Newser) – Freewheeling speech on Twitter isn't the same as protected speech, a judge has ruled. In a decision with major repercussions for social media communication, a Manhattan criminal court judge has ordered Twitter to turn over tweets sent by a New York writer during Occupy Wall Street protests last fall. Judge Matthew Sciarrino said that while private speech is protected, the writer's communication doesn't merit the same treatment because his tweets were public, reports the New York Times. The case involves writer Malcolm Harris, who was busted while Occupiers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. Prosecutors demanded two days of Harris' tweets in a bid to contradict his expected defense that it was police who led protesters off the bridge walkway and into the road.

Twitter fought the request, and the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that prosecutors should be required to obtain a search warrant in such a case, and that the process shouldn't skip over the writer of a tweet to go directly to Twitter. While the prosecution was delighted with the ruling, a Twitter statement expressed "disappointment," adding: "Twitter’s terms of service make it absolutely clear that its users own their content. We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights." That's a surprise, given that Twitter itself has just revealed that it complied with 63% of 849 requests from law enforcement authorities to turn over tweets in the first six months of this year, reports the Los Angeles Times. American law enforcement made up 80% of those requests.

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