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Twitter Fights to Protect Tweets at Protester Trial

Users have rights to all content, company argues
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2012 1:58 AM CDT
Updated May 9, 2012 2:23 AM CDT
Twitter Battles to Keep Tweets Private at Protester Trial
Occupy Wall Street protesters sit with arms linked on New York's Brooklyn Bridge before police began making arrests last October.   (AP Photo/Stephanie Keith)

Twitter is fighting a subpoena demanding tweets of an Occupy protester on trial in Manhattan. The outcome of the battle could have a major impact on tweeters' privacy. The company is arguing that Twitter has no claim on a user's communication, and therefore has no right to turn them over to a court. Prosecutors are seeking three months of tweets written by protester Malcolm Harris, who was busted on the Brooklyn Bridge last year along with 700 other Occupy activists. Harris filed his own motion to quash the subpoena, contending there's "no justification" for access to "such a broad swath of electronic data." But the judge threw out the motion, ruling that the tweets don't belong to him and he has no standing to fight for them.

Twitter filed a memorandum against the judge's order, noting that its terms of service make clear that "users own their content." It also insists a search warrant is necessary before any company hand over subscribers' communications. Harris has been charged with disorderly conduct, and prosecutors believe his tweets might contradict his expected defense claiming that police were allowing activists to march on the roadway, the New York Times has reported. Twitter lost a similar case earlier this year when a US prosecutor demanded the tweets of an Icelandic member of parliament during an investigation into Wikileaks. (Read more tweet stories.)

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