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Twitter Hands Over Messages At Heart of Occupy Case 73

Posted by Soulskill
from the giving-up-the-ghost dept.
another random user sends this excerpt from a BBC report: "Legal pressure has forced Twitter to hand over messages sent by an Occupy Wall Street protester. Twitter spent months resisting the call to release the messages, saying to do so would undermine privacy laws. The Manhattan district attorney's office wanted the tweets to help its case against protester Malcolm Harris. It believes the messages undermine Mr. Harris' claim that New York police led protesters on to the Brooklyn Bridge to make it easier to arrest them. It claims the messages will show Mr. Harris was aware of police orders that he then disregarded."
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Twitter Hands Over Messages At Heart of Occupy Case

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  • "Legal pressure has forced Twitter to handed over messages sent by an Occupy Wall Street protester"

    If they haven't taken steps to anonymize the msgs, then silly them :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      How can a message be protected (so only then sender/receiver can read them) and anonymous at the same time? The only way you could do that would be to generate a public/private key for each message, then search by public key, and that would be ridiculous.
  • by Sydin (2598829) on Friday September 14, 2012 @02:41PM (#41338061)
    The data will remain uninspected until after an appeal by the defendant. Not that I think the appeal will work mind you, but I feel this needs to be said, since the headline is misleading and makes it sound like the NYPD are tearing through the turned over twitters as we speak. This is not the case: twitter was forced to turn over the requested data to the court by today, or face stupidly high fines and a few contempt of court charges. It's actually rather interesting: the Government is pretty used to Corporations lining up to give them all the data they ask for. These same companies steal millions from the public, and get a slap on the wrist. Then when somebody doesn't play ball, suddenly this corporation is obviously deserving of crippling fines!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The court's opinion was that Mr. Harris could fight the subpoena if he wanted to.

      Twitter has to obey a court order, it's not their place to fight a subpoena from a Harris' trial.

    • There's no empirical reason to believe that the current system hasn't ever been corrupt in this regard or ever could be. I know, I know, the government taught us otherwise in its education centers.

    • It's actually rather interesting: the Government is pretty used to Corporations lining up to give them all the data they ask for. These same companies steal millions from the public, and get a slap on the wrist. Then when somebody doesn't play ball, suddenly this corporation is obviously deserving of crippling fines!

      You just found out the sky is blue, eh? I guess the interesting part is that we've been standing back and watching it happen and doing our own part by seeking out the safest spot in the herd for

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday September 14, 2012 @03:33PM (#41338799)

      Then when somebody doesn't play ball, suddenly this corporation is obviously deserving of crippling fines!

      They didn't pay enough in protection mon--,er, campaign contributions.

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      I don't think there is anything "sudden" about this at all. If you choose to go up against the legal system you better be on pretty solid ground. Protecting or even seeming to protect a defendant against prosecution is almost always going to get you nowhere, quickly.

      Further, anything that can be considered to be withholding evidence is just going to get you slapped by the judge. The US legal system is pretty much dependent on a free exchange of information and anyone that has information is assumed to ha

    • > the Government is pretty used to Corporations lining up
      > to give them all the data they ask for. These same companies
      > steal millions from the public, and get a slap on the wrist.

      Methinks you have your order of operations backwards. Politicians seek power so they can lord over people, and corporations, and use laws to get in the way, in exchange for donations legal or otherwise, to get back out of the way.

      A corporation who, golly, stands up to government can look to less help and more harm in th

  • by Lucas123 (935744)
    Mr. Harris claimed that New York police led protesters on to the Brooklyn Bridge to make it easier to arrest them. The Manhattan DA claims the Twitter messages will show Mr. Harris was aware of police orders that he then disregarded." This will only allow the truth to come out. I see no downside. Twitter isn't obligated as a private company to maintain your privacy messages -- it's only good business to do so. Bottom line: You send messages using a public social network, you take your privacy in your own h
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Except...

      "Harris had argued that seeking the accompanying user information violated his privacy and free association rights. The data could give prosecutors a picture of his followers, their interactions and his location at various points, Stolar said."

      Luckily...

      "The judge sided with the company on one point: It didn’t have to turn over some of the tweets prosecutors’ sought, because a federal law requires a court-approved search warrant, not just a subpoena, for stored electronic communications

    • by MrEricSir (398214)

      This will only allow the truth to come out. I see no downside.

      Ah yes, the old "if you have nothing to hide, you don't need privacy" defense. I guess that's a popular idea, which explains why we don't have due process in cases like this anymore.

      • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sasayaki (1096761) on Friday September 14, 2012 @03:12PM (#41338547)

        I'm as much a fan of privacy as anyone else on Slashdot, but this is different.

        There's no expectation of privacy on a twitter message nor should there be. Further, this is evidence of a crime. No, it's not a serious crime (murder etc), but if the claim made by the prosecution is shown to be valid then it is a crime. The tweets will probably do that. If they exonerated him he would present them himself I'd wager, so in all likelihood they do not.

        You're missing the point of what people mean when they say "if you have nothing to hide...". They're not saying we need to stop legitimate, specific, limited, manually approved warrants from being executed with the aim of finding the truth of a legal matter. Instead, we need to stop illegitimate, broad-sweeping, unlimited, automatically approved acquisition of data from people who are not (as this guy is) under genuine suspicion of committing crimes.

        A very important difference.

        If you have a problem with the crimes, that's different. Totally different. Immoral crimes exist and one of the ways to change them is to break them. This guy obviously has principles and, you know what, good on him. The problem is, you should be prepared to be punished for civil disobediance no matter how legitimate (nobody who goes into this kind of thing should expect a trouble free ride) and you certainly shouldn't co-op the cause of legitimate privacy concerns to protect yourself when you do.

        • by GSloop (165220)

          But this isn't just the tweets.

          It's all the data Twitter holds on the user. Location data. Friends who follow, association or links with others etc.

          To portray this as only revealing the public tweets is wrong. I'm not sure if that's deliberate or intentional, but it's a misstatement of fact.
          The WP article as light as it is on details makes clear that Harris was most concerned about user information, not the public tweets.

          • by GSloop (165220)

            To expand.

            I can't see any rational reason for a fishing expedition that reveals association data [among other things] in his criminal case. And uncovering who he "associates" with is a direct affront to the freedoms guaranteed in the constitution and amendments.

            IMO it's not relevant to the case at all and grabbing for it is simply harassment, or worse, by law enforcement.

          • But this isn't just the tweets. It's all the data Twitter holds on the user. Location data. Friends who follow, association or links with others etc.

            How does that change anything? Even if he'd written it in his personal diary, on paper, the prosecution could still use it as evidence.

            • by GSloop (165220)

              So you're completely good if you're charged with say, a criminal trespass violation, for the court to order a search of your home - even where there's no reasonable expectation that the search would reveal anything of use to the prosecution?

              Who follows a twitter user, and location data simply are not relevant, IMO, to the criminal prosecution.
              And you can't get a warrant to grab and search for information that isn't directly relevant to the crime. [And since specifically protected constitutional issues are a

        • by microbee (682094)

          : Immoral crimes exist and one of the ways to change them is to break them.

          As they say, if this is a legitimate crime, your body will resist and stop you from committing it.

        • by Chibi Merrow (226057) <mrmerrow@@@monkeyinfinity...net> on Friday September 14, 2012 @03:52PM (#41339017) Homepage Journal

          I'm as much a fan of privacy as anyone else on Slashdot, but this is different.

          Actually, it's different but in a completely different way than you suggest. What actually happened was the government demanded this guy's personal info, Twitter informed the guy the government was trying to get it, and the guy then moved to quash.

          The Judge then ruled that the guy has no interest in his own data, since it's on Twitter's servers and he gave them a license, and therefore he has no standing to file a motion to protect his own information.

          The judge then said Twitter had to hand over the information, since they had no reason to protect him. Twitter and this guy appealed the decision, since it's obviously kind of boneheaded that a judge would say "You don't have a right to prevent us from asking for your information if someone else has it." That appeal is pending.

          The judge then sent Twitter a letter, asking why he shouldn't find them in contempt for not turning over the information. Twitter pointed to the pending appeal, and he essentially said "I don't care about your appeal, I'm the judge here, which means I'm right, you're wrong. Turn it over or face sanctions."

          So while I agree with you that people performing civil disobedience should be prepared to face the consequences for it, this case isn't even at that point yet. This is all over the government completely abusing due process and trying to prevent the guy from even having a say in the investigation!

        • by MrEricSir (398214)

          There's no expectation of privacy on a twitter message nor should there be. Further, this is evidence of a crime. No, it's not a serious crime (murder etc), but if the claim made by the prosecution is shown to be valid then it is a crime. The tweets will probably do that. If they exonerated him he would present them himself I'd wager, so in all likelihood they do not.

          Okay, then why couldn't the police just get a warrant?

          Also, as others have said there's more to this than public data. Not every piece of dat

          • by Americano (920576)

            A subpoena is the appropriate legal step here. Unless you really think it's necessary for police to kick in Twitter's server room doors, unhook all of the servers that might be relevant to the investigation, and cart them off for indexing and analysis by some third party IT agency?

            It's much easier for Twitter and the police to say, "Dear Twitter, provide us with this information, or be found in contempt of court. Sincerely, The Judge." Since Twitter has the expertise to provide the information without ma

        • A rare bit of reality here. The web is public. Twitter is public, Slashdot is public. What we post on the web is public. The only reason we're talking about Twitter turning over anything is because Twitter only keeps content online for about 5 minutes, then it rolls over.

          Tweeting is as public as shouting at the top of your lungs on a busy street.

        • by Urza9814 (883915)

          You're missing the point of what people mean when they say "if you have nothing to hide...". They're not saying we need to stop legitimate, specific, limited, manually approved warrants from being executed with the aim of finding the truth of a legal matter. Instead, we need to stop illegitimate, broad-sweeping, unlimited, automatically approved acquisition of data from people who are not (as this guy is) under genuine suspicion of committing crimes.

          If nobody ever resists government requests for data (which is exactly what Twitter has done), then you DO have "illegitimate, broad-sweeping, unlimited, automatically approved acquisition of data from people who are not under genuine suspicion of committing crimes." If nobody says 'wait a minute, I'm not sure that's legal' and leaves it up to the government to decide on their own what is and is not legitimate surveillance, you end up with secret rooms at AT&T....

          You do not know this guy is guilty. Nor d

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The guy is getting due process. If you cry wolf over things like this, no one will take you seriously when rights are actually trampled.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        "If you have nothing to hide" only applies in a perfect world where the government NEVER makes mistakes, NEVER arrests, prosecutes, or convicts people by mistake, and above all NEVER abuses civil liberties.

        Additionally, it also assumes that government evidence rooms are PERFECTLY secure and that government networks are UNHACKABLE and no malicious third party could possibly break in and steal anything, either as a burglar or a hacker or both.

        If even ONE of those assumptions isn't true, then the "if you have

    • You send messages using a public social network, you take your privacy in your own hands.

      Unfortunately, most people are so poorly educated when it comes to basic computer use that they do not even understand the privacy implications of using a system like Twitter, let alone how to protect their own privacy. It is not as though a basic understanding of computers is included in K-12 education -- if it were, we might draw an analogy between a failure to use Tor and a failure to correctly compute 2+3 (although even that may be hard for some people, given the inadequacies of American education).

      • by DaHat (247651)

        Unfortunately, most people are so poorly educated when it comes to basic computer use that they do not even understand the privacy implications of using a system like Twitter

        Are you arguing that ignorance of the law... errr... technology is an excuse?

    • by Seumas (6865)

      However, the argument they are using is that it's basically the same as if you shout your confession into a public street. However, if he deleted it, then it is HIS GOOD LUCK. The same way shouting a confession into a public street that just happens to be empty at the moment isn't incriminating. The "evidence" is lost to the ether.

      Yes, it was stupid of him to begin with, but that doesn't mean we should just steamroll over important concepts like this.

  • ...home of the legal system that will threaten the viability of your business if you attempt to protect your intellectual property containing Constitutionally protected free speech.
    • by Intropy (2009018)

      Freedom of speech isn't at issue. Nobody is claiming Harris said something bad and should be prosecuted for saying it.

      Someone is claiming that Harris publicly said something that is evidence that other claims he is making are false. Harris has a right to privacy. The prosecution has a right to search for evidence. These are the kinds of conflicts the courts are supposed to be deciding. Generally if the prosecution can show specific enough cause for their belief that the evidence exists they will be given pe

    • Yes, we are land of the free...not land of the private. There is much that is public. If you tweet, you are doing so publicly and that information should be made available. If I go stand on a street corner and yell something, that too is public and people can hold that against me (if it is incriminating). The difference is that the person is not being put in jail for saying something against the government...like in so many other countries around the world. We are free to speak our mind, but if what we
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Social networks are NOT social and just allow governments to spy on you with more ease... STOP THE STUPIDITY!!!

  • How do 5th amendment rights play out?
    Are they forcing him to give up his right to silence or did he wave that posting in a public space like Twitter?
    That's about the only thing I can think up in terms of a defense here.
    But going all the way to SCOTUS for a $500 fine or 15 days in jail seems like an awful lot of work though.
    Better just to set up a "Help Harris Pay His Fine" fund through Paypal.
  • Encryption that will hold out longer than the statute of limitations.

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