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September 17, 2012

Twitter surrenders Occupy Wall Street tweets

The microblogging site has finally handed over tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protester, after being served a subpoena in January by the District Attorney's Office in Manhattan.

By Tineka Smith

Occupy Wall Street protest
Photo Credit: Sunset Parkerpix

Twitter had recently moved to quash the subpoena asking for Malcolm Harris’s twitter data, but was denied by a New York criminal judge in July.

According to Reuters, Harris’s Twitter posts will remain under seal until Harris’s appeal next week. His trial is set to begin in December.

Malcolm Harris was one of several hundred Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested last year during a protest across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Prosecutors claim that Harris was aware he was going against police orders to not go on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Twitter had initially argued against the subpoena stating that the tweets belonged to Harris and providing information without a search warrant would be violating his fourth amendment privacy rights under the American Constitution.

The fourth amendment protects against unlawful search and seizure.

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New York Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. had ruled that Harris’s fourth amendment rights were not violated because there was "no physical intrusion of the defendant’s tweets."

"There is no reasonable expectation of privacy for tweets that the user has made public," said Sciarrino.

"It is the act of tweeting or disseminating communications to the public that controls. Even when a user deletes his or her tweets there are search engines available such as "Untweetable", "Tweleted" and "Politwoops" that hold users accountable for everything they had publicly tweeted and later deleted," he said.

"Therefore, the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated because there was no physical intrusion of the defendant’s tweets and the defendant has no reasonable expectation of privacy in the information he intentionally broadcast to the world."

Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, found the court’s ruling disappointing.

"What is surprising is that the court continued to fail to grapple with one of the key issues underlying this case: do individuals give up their ability to go to court to try to protect their free speech and privacy rights when they use the Internet? As we explained in our brief, the answer has to be no," said Fine.

Please follow this author on Twitter @Tineka_S or comment below.

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