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Twitter To Appeal Turning Over Protester's Messages 71

Posted by samzenpus
from the keep-your-hands-off-my-tweets dept.
angry tapir writes "Twitter plans to appeal a ruling to turn over the once-public tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protester charged with disorderly conduct, a case the company says threatens the First Amendment rights of its users. A New York Criminal Court judge ruled last month that Twitter should turn over the tweets of Malcolm Harris, since his messages were public and are not the same as an email or a private chat, which would require a search warrant."
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Twitter To Appeal Turning Over Protester's Messages

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  • by ohnocitizen (1951674) on Friday July 20, 2012 @03:13AM (#40708523)
    Imagine putting a sign on your front lawn. A month later you bring it inside your house. Since the sign was public, does that mean the police no longer need a warrant? If twitter loses this appeal, the answer to that question will be no. It is essentially saying anything made public can never be made private. Now, if someone took pictures of that sign on your lawn, that's another matter. So a snapshot of a public site would be fair game. So much so, I wonder if the police monitor tweets and store potentially interesting ones?
    • by Jerry Smith (806480) on Friday July 20, 2012 @03:20AM (#40708537) Homepage Journal

      Imagine putting a sign on your front lawn. A month later you bring it inside your house. Since the sign was public, does that mean the police no longer need a warrant? If twitter loses this appeal, the answer to that question will be no. It is essentially saying anything made public can never be made private. Now, if someone took pictures of that sign on your lawn, that's another matter. So a snapshot of a public site would be fair game. So much so, I wonder if the police monitor tweets and store potentially interesting ones?

      You can't unsay what you have said. If you scream at someone "I'm gonna kill you", it will be used against you.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 20, 2012 @03:48AM (#40708643)

        This is disorderly conduct. It is several orders of magnitude less than threatening to kill someone. Flipping off a cop, pissing in the street, having a temper tantrum, or being drunk in public are items that would normally be grouped under this crime. In the court that I used to work at the penalty was typically a $100 fine and 1 day in jail (which was credited even if you bailed out immediately). It is basically the judicial system's version of a time-out. With a lawyer, it would almost always result in a deferred sentence (no criminal record).

        There is no value to the state in searching for evidence to this crime. If the state needs anything more than the statements of witnesses, the statements of the cops, or voluntarily turned over camera footage, then the prosecutor is wasting his or her time and scarce resources.

        • Of course members of the "Occupy" movement have engaged in far more serious behavior: Occupy Wall Street Blotter [nationalreview.com]

          • by Hatta (162192)

            If you care about the rule of law, you should be complaining about the crimes of bankers. Whatever laws the Occupy movement has broken pale in comparision to the crimes of Citibank, Countrywide, Goldman Sacks, MF Global, etc. If they can break the law and get away with it, why should we respect the law?

            • by tomhath (637240)
              What makes you think he doesn't care about those crimes too?
              • by Hatta (162192)

                If he did, he'd be condemning prosecutors for not having their priorities straight.

            • If he had posted this once it could have been a legit, if off-topic concern. Since he had to post it multiple times like an APK-wannabe, we can see he's just flamebaiting.

              • by Hatta (162192)

                Are you referring to me, or ColdFjord? Any time people bring up the crimes committed by Occupy, they need to be reminded that Occupy happened because a much more powerful group committed much more serious and harmful crimes. There is nothing off topic or flamebait about pointing out who the real dangerous criminals in this country are.

        • by chrismcb (983081)

          Flipping off a cop... in public are items that would normally be grouped under this crime.

          Excuse me? Flipping off a cop is an expression, which I have a right to. If they are giving out disorderly conduct tickets for flipping of a cop, or calling them a pig, something is definitely wrong.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If there are only 2 people party to the conversation, the person posting the twitter and the person reading it, is it public then?
        If an email is sent from one person to another, is it public then, so public that we skip the warrant.

        Why are they trying to skip the warrant BTW, what's wrong with them justifying their demand by a warrant???

        What if the email is to 50 people on a mailing list, is it then public and doesn't need a warrant to demand it?

        • by darksabre (250838)

          Tweets are public as they can be read by any member of the public regardless of whether that someone is party to the conversation or not. A member of the public cannot read an email that was not sent to them at least not in the general case. So tweets are public, emails are mostly not. Emails can become public if they are sent to an email list with a publicly readable archive etc.

          Warrants are costly and time consuming. Why use one if it is not needed? Do you like wasting time and throwing money away?

          As to t

      • Why is the parent currently moderated troll?
        It should be obvious to any half-wit that you cannot unsay a public statement when someone calls you on it. You are responsible for your own public utterances. If you run around making death threats or inciting riots, then eventually someone will take you seriously and the rest of us will hold you to account. It's a quaint concept called modern civilization, it's not always logical or fair, and its stubborn rules have been famously compared to an ass. However it
      • by c0lo (1497653)

        Imagine putting a sign on your front lawn. A month later you bring it inside your house. Since the sign was public, does that mean the police no longer need a warrant? If twitter loses this appeal, the answer to that question will be no. It is essentially saying anything made public can never be made private. Now, if someone took pictures of that sign on your lawn, that's another matter. So a snapshot of a public site would be fair game. So much so, I wonder if the police monitor tweets and store potentially interesting ones?

        You can't unsay what you have said. If you scream at someone "I'm gonna kill you", it will be used against you.

        Yes, but if you didn't record me at that time, don't ask me to scream again.

      • by moj0joj0 (1119977)

        You can't unsay what you have said. If you scream at someone "I'm gonna kill you", it will be used against you.

        It is doubtful that that phrase, without context, will be used against you. Words on their own have no standing without context. Now, if you pull a knife, wave it menacingly at an individual and scream "I'm going to kill you!", now you are talking about something that will get you in trouble. People scream, whisper, shout, say and text 'I'm going to kill you' all day every day with no repercussion and there shouldn't be any repercussion, because that phrase is a well known idiom.

        While it is true that you

      • by gr8_phk (621180)

        You can't unsay what you have said. If you scream at someone "I'm gonna kill you", it will be used against you.

        No, but you don't have to turn over recording of it. Suppose Twitter didn't archive all the tweets - then what? In fact, why DOES twitter archive all tweets?

      • But you can destroy a sign. Or store it in the basement. Is a twitter post more like physically saying something, or making a sign?
    • So much so, I wonder if the police monitor tweets and store potentially interesting ones?

      Why wonder? Just assume that some agency, somewhere, does. Maybe not the police, but with all the agencies that could be interested in this, it's likely that this happens!

    • If I bring a weapon they think was used in a crime, inside, don't they still have to get a warrant?

      Why should this be any different?

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        If I bring a weapon they think was used in a crime, inside, don't they still have to get a warrant?

        Why should this be any different?

        That brings the interesting possibility by analogy that if a twitter itself was an offence (hate speech, grooming, etc) it would need a warrant but if it was "just a sign", e.g. used to show that X had communicated with Y, then one wouldn't be needed!

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      ..why the need for court order in the first place since the court argues that they're _public_ in the first place.

      • by sosume (680416)

        Say you make a statement in public which could get you arrested for disorderly conduct. I happened to make a movie of you making that statement on my cell phone. I have shown the movie in public, but after you complained I stopped showing it.
        Now the police suddenly wants to prosecute you for disorderly conduct, but they have no evidence. Should they be allowed to force me to hand over my cell phone?

    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      Imagine a creepy man is looking into my bedroom window. I close my blinds. What has been publicly viewable is now no longer.
    • by bhagwad (1426855)
      In this case, only the contents of the message were public. His identity itself was not. So the court has clearly made a mistake in reasoning here.
    • by chrismcb (983081)
      This isn't about a search warrant. At least not at this stage. In your case, it is like the cop showed up and said, we want a copy (or picture) of the sign you had in your front yard.
      A subpeona is involved. Not quite a search warrant, but still a court document.
      Also in your particular case, if there was evidence that the sign existed, and that you now had it in your house, it is very likely they could get a search warrant for it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    All of this for disorderly conduct? You have to be kidding me. There has to be some political motivation in these prosecutions. Disorderly conduct has to be the least severe of all criminal offenses. I can't imagine any DA wanting to waste a court's time trying to get subpoenas for it.

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      All of this for disorderly conduct? You have to be kidding me. There has to be some political motivation in these prosecutions. Disorderly conduct has to be the least severe of all criminal offenses. I can't imagine any DA wanting to waste a court's time trying to get subpoenas for it.

      Just wait for the sentences. What's the betting that protesters get way higher average sentences than the guy who has had too much to drink and is causing a nuisance in a public place.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Dissent is the most severe of all offenses.

    • by Solandri (704621)
      Be that as it may, this is actually a pretty important case from an online privacy standpoint. If I send an IM to a few dozen friends, is it private? Is it public? If I deleted everything I uploaded to Facebook when I decided they were a crappy service 5 years ago, but FB still has a copy, can law enforcement get at it? These are questions that will need to be answered at some point.

      In that respect, it's actually a good thing it's only for a disorderly conduct charge. That way the judge/jury ruling
  • by Pichu0102 (916292) <pichu0102@gmail.com> on Friday July 20, 2012 @04:08AM (#40708745) Homepage Journal

    Have they tried looking into the Wayback Machine to see if it's holding the tweets? It'd hard to imagine that they're not archived somewhere from when they were public. The only question is if they'd be admissible as evidence from a source like Wayback instead of the direct site itself.

    • >The only question is if they'd be admissible as evidence from a source like Wayback instead of the direct site itself.

      I don't see a question there, you can never actually VIEW an original website unless you physically at the server looking at the source files. Any browser creates a copy (downloading the page) and displays that copy. All web pages are already indirectly viewed.

      So either ALL web-based content is hearsay evidence (which is clearly NOT the current position of the courts) or archives should

  • Not so public (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geniusj (140174) on Friday July 20, 2012 @04:30AM (#40708855) Homepage

    The comment may be public, but clearly his identity isn't, or they'd know it.

    • Or maybe they do know it, but just need evidence that will stand up in court.

    • Re:Not so public (Score:5, Informative)

      by Barefoot Monkey (1657313) on Friday July 20, 2012 @07:29AM (#40709593)

      His identity is Malcolm Harris, apparently. That's not the problem. It seems they want to use tweets that he made and later deleted as evidence against him, but those tweets don't exist anymore, which is why they're pressuring Twitter to provide them again.

      • by thsths (31372)

        > which is why they're pressuring Twitter to provide them again.

        And if they have a legitimate interest, they should have no trouble getting a warrant. I think this is quite a simple case...

  • Twitter should be (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Commended for taking this stance. We should loudly complain when companies like Google and Facebook spit on our data rights but similarly warmly thank the companies that try to protect them. So, thanks Twitter, still prefer to use Statusnet on my own server but at least you're trying or your cunning marketing is working on me.
    On a legal note, could it be argued that the user posts messages with a degree of privacy (albeit small) by the understanding they can retract tweets?

    • by Jesrad (716567)

      Damn right they should be commended for fighting to make privacy a bit more valuable. If they win I can then trade that privacy for slightly more valuable services to Facebook, Google, etc...

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