Freedom of Tweets

By Mike Isaac in Social 
July 19, 2012 at 8:49 am PT

Twitter announced on Thursday that it will appeal a recent ruling in an ongoing legal battle between the state of New York and a Twitter user, in which a judge ordered Twitter to hand over information on one of its users.

The appeal comes shortly after New York County Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. ruled that Twitter must hand over a series of tweets sent by Malcolm Harris, a senior editor at online publication the New Inquiry and a protester in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Harris was one of more than 700 people arrested in conjunction with a massive OWS protest that blocked the Brooklyn Bridge last October.

In its original motion to quash the New York State D.A.’s request for the information, Twitter cited the First Amendment, saying that “content that Twitter users create and submit to Twitter are clearly a form of electronic communication that, accordingly, implicates First Amendment protections.”

Judge Sciarrino disagreed with Twitter’s defense. “What you give to the public belongs to the public,” Sciarrino wrote in his ruling. “What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.”

Twitter legal counsel Ben Lee announced Twitter’s decision to appeal Judge Sciarrino’s ruling on Thursday morning — via Twitter, of course.

“At Twitter, we are committed to fighting for our users,” the text of the appeal states.  “Accordingly, we are appealing this decision which, in our view, doesn’t strike the right balance between the rights of our users and the interests of law enforcement.”

The case holds larger implications for Twitter in terms of potential future litigation.  The court originally found that Harris “lacked the legal standing” to challenge the request for Twitter information on his own behalf.  But if Twitter users on the whole can’t defend themselves against subpoenas for information, that responsibility is on Twitter.

And that puts the company in an awkward situation.  Twitter can’t reasonably go to court every time a defendant goes to trial and his or her tweets are subpoenaed. In the first six months of this year alone, for instance, Twitter received more than 800 user-information requests.

So, while the Harris decision seems a singular and minor case, the court case’s end game could have long-term implications for the role Twitter will play in defending its users in the future.

Video uploaded by U Tube user  


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