Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Twitter defends user's rights in Occupy Wall Street related case

The ACLU is giving Twitter some props, as the popular micro-blogging service has "stood up for one of its users," according to the ACLU's blog post.

It's possible that Twitter's legal challenge has drawn positive attention from the ACLU not just because it defends the privacy of a user, but also because the case involved is related to an Occupy Wall Street protest on the Brooklyn Bridge last year.

A New York state court has ordered Twitter to disclose the data on one of its users, Malcolm Harris. The order is for the microblogging service to turn over basic user information from Harris' account (@destructuremal), as well as his Tweets.

Harris was arrested on October 1st of last year when he marched on the Brooklyn Bridge as part of an Occupy protest. As part of the proceedings against him, the Manhattan DA subpoenaed Twitter, requesting "any and all user information" connected to Harris's @destructuremal Twitter account between September 15 and December 31, 2011.

Harris' own motion to quash the subpoena was denied by the Criminal Court of the City of New York. However, Twitter itself filed a motion (.PDF) on Monday in support of the Harris' motion.

The courts denial of Harris' motion is based on it holding that he has no proprietary interest in the content he submits to Twitter, and thus no "legal standing" in the matter. However, Twitter argues the opposite, based on its own terms of service, which state that users "retain [the] rights to any content [they] submit, post, or display on or through" the site.

Twitter added, that, in addition, the Stored Communications Act permits users to challenge demands for their account records. They also used the Shared Communications Act to foster another argument, that handing over Harris' data constitutes an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Searches for information under the Stored Communication Act still require a warrant.

From Ben Lee, Twitter legal counsel: "As we said in our brief, Twitter's terms of service make absolutely clear that its users *own* their content. Our filing with the court reaffirms our steadfast commitment to defending those rights for our users."

The ACLU applauded Twitter's actions, with Aden Fine, senior staff attorney at the ACLU saying: "This is a big deal. Law enforcement agencies - both the federal government and state and city entities - are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet. And while the individual Internet users can try to defend their rights in the rare circumstances in which they find out about the requests before their information is turned over, that may not be enough. If Internet users cannot protect their own constitutional rights, the only hope is that Internet companies do so."

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