Twitter filed a motion in a New York State Court to quash a court order that would force it to hand over data on Malcom Harris, an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protester being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan. Harris, arrested for disorderly conduct during last year’s march across the Brooklyn Bridge has been pursued by the DA’s office which is requesting all his tweets over a three-month period.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union:
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. Indeed, even though Twitter provided notice to the Twitter user in this particular case, and even though he was able to get an attorney to file a motion seeking to quash the subpoena, the court found that the Twitter user did not have legal “standing” to challenge the D.A.’s subpoena.
The Court ruling that Harris did not have legal standing puts users in the position of having to rely on private companies to protect their Constitutional rights – even in the case as with Twitter where the company explicitly states that you own your own data. As you might imagine, Harris was understandably pleased with Twitter’s latest action:
Good for Twitter, which hardly has a spotless record in this area. But where this goes is anyone’s guess. In its filing, Twitter referred to a case where the courts ruled that attaching a GPS device to someone violates the Fourth Amendment standard against unreasonable searches:
If the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement applies merely to surveillance of one’s location in public areas for 28 days, it also applies to the District Attorney’s effort to force Twitter to produce over three months worth of a citizen’s substantive communications, regardless of whether the government alleges those communications are public or private. (from Mashable)
However, in a world where technology use is unevenly distributed and society’s understanding of it often borders on the dysfunctional, one would not be surprised to see the Court uphold the District Attorney’s position. That will send it to a higher court where, hopefully, commonsense and an understanding of liberty and individual rights in the digital age will overturn the decision. If the State can demand to see your communication with others – which you don’t even have in your possession by the time the demand is made – we are in trouble, indeed.