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Should information on Twitter be made available for the courts?

Categories: Transparency, World

hi-twitter-occupy-480.jpgA judge said in a ruling released Monday that Twitter must give a court almost three months' worth of an Occupy Wall Street protester's tweets after prosecutors demanded the messages be released to make a case for arrests. (Will Stevens/Associated Press)

A Manhattan judge has ordered Twitter to submit three months' worth of tweets from October 2011 in the case of a man arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. rebuffed one of Twitter Inc.'s central arguments, which concerned who has rights to contest law enforcement demands for content posted on its site.

But the judge said the company was right on a separate point that could require prosecutors to take further action if they want to see the final day's worth of Malcolm Harris's tweets and his user information.

"If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy," Sciarrino wrote in his decision. "It also deals with tweets that were publicly posted rather than an e-mail or text that would be directed to a single person or a select few."

Harris was one of the roughly 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested when the march against corporate greed and financial inequality surged onto the Brooklyn Bridge snarling traffic. Protesters said they thought the police allowed them to walk onto the roadway before they were arrested.

He challenged the subpoena for his tweets, saying that although the messages were sent publicly, seeking the accompanying user information violated his privacy and free association rights. The data could give prosecutors a picture of his followers, their interactions through replies and retweets, and his location at various points, Stolar said.

The Guardian reports that Twitter said it was "disappointed" by the decision in an email response. "Twitter's terms of service have long made it absolutely clear that its users own their content," the statement read. "We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights."

The decision comes on the same week that Twitter released its first biannual Transparency Report detailing how often nations' governments request the social media network to either give them user information or withhold content.

The United States, where Twitter is based, sent the overwhelming majority of requests up to January 1, 2012 - 679 out of a total 849 requests. The second most came from Japan with 98, while Canada lists 11.

Twitter explained on its blog that the new report is part of its policies meant to "help inform people, increase awareness and hold all involved parties--including ourselves--more accountable."

Should users on Twitter submit requested posts and information when a government or judge requests them? How should rules about privacy and personal information apply to tweets, including those that might otherwise be buried in the archive after months or years?

With files from the Associated Press


(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' replies.)

Tags: POV, Transparency, World

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