Twitter on Friday reluctantly complied with a judge’s order to divulge the tweets and account information connected to an Occupy protester.
The case concerns Malcolm Harris, who was among hundreds arrested last October for disorderly conduct in an Occupy movement march along the Brooklyn Bridge.
Prosecutors sought tweets made by Harris’ account “to refute the defendant’s anticipated defense, that the police either led or escorted the defendant into stepping onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge.”
The case was being closely watched as the authorities increasingly monitor and move to access material posted on social networks. The development comes two months after the micro-blogging site reported that, for the first six months of the year, the authorities sought information on Twitter user accounts 679 times, and Twitter produced some or all of the information 75 percent of the time.
In its appeal, (.pdf) Twitter wrote that Harris’ tweets are protected by the Fourth Amendment “because the government admits that it cannot publicly access them, thus establishing that defendant maintains a reasonable expectation of privacy in his communications.” The Twitter accounts in question have been closed and are no longer publicly available.
But even if Harris’ tweets were publicly available, Twitter points out that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “public information which would allow law enforcement to draw mere inferences about a citizen’s thoughts and associations are entitled to Constitutional protection, thus establishing that a citizen’s substantive communications are certainly entitled to the same protection.”