Twitter supports Occupy Wall Street, refuses court order violating user’s privacy

A round of applause for Twitter today. Users own their own content, according to the company.

Twitter has moved to quash a court order issued by the Manhattan district attorney that would require it to hand over the tweets of a writer and Occupy Wall Street protester arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge last October.

In a motion filed in the criminal court in New York on Monday Twitter argued that it should not be forced to give the prosecutor three months worth of tweets by Malcolm Harris, who was arrested on the bridge along with 700 other activists.

Harris had issued his own motion in a bid to quash the subpoena in February, contending that there was “no justification” for New York prosecutors to seek “such a broad swath of electronic data”. The motion was rejected by Judge Matthew A Sciarrino Jr on 20 April, in an order ruling that Harris did not have the legal standing to challenge the subpoena because Twitter owned the rights to his tweets.

NOTE FROM JOHN: It’s really scary that judges, who probably understand the Internet as well as my parents, are making law governing the Internet.

First, someone doesn’t have automatic rights in their own written content that’s posted online? Really? So I guess I don’t have rights to my own blog then.

Second, the NY prosecutors wants Twitter to turn over user information, including the user’s email address. That’s a pretty hefty privacy violation without a court order, or just cause.

Harris was arrested in October and charged with disorderly conduct for his participation in an Occupy Wall Street march that ended with some 700 arrests after protesters walked onto the road section of the Brooklyn Bridge. New York prosecutors issued a subpoena to Twitter on 26 January, requesting three months worth of tweets from Harris’s twitter account as well as “user information, including email address”.

Do you know anyone who has any kind of account, online or off, that doesn’t publicly state their real name? Do you think the true identity of the account holder should be publicly available without a court order? And, again, how the judge claim that the account holder has no interest in their identity being released?

Next, check out the fishing expedition the NY prosecutor is on:

The New York Times has reported that prosecutors want to see three months of Harris’s tweetsin the belief they may contradict his potential defence that police allowed protesters to walk in the road.

“The defendant may have used the account to make statements while on the bridge that were inconsistent with his anticipated trial defense,” the Times quoted assistant district attorney Lee Langston as saying.

May?  Is there any evidence he did?  And why stop there. The defendant “may” have used his account to conspire with the newest underwear bomber. He “may” have used his account to plan the assassination of the President. Heck, any of us “may” have. So let’s open up every electronic communication to the NYPD so they can make sure that none of us “may” be up to no good.

(To follow me on Twitter: @ChrisInParis)


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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