Twitter are engaged in a legal wrangle with the New York City district attorney’s office over access to tweets made by an Occupy Wall Street protester who is being prosecuted for disorderly conduct. In a motion file on Monday, Twitter is requesting that the court order requiring it to hand over three months worth of tweets posted by Malcolm Harris, be thrown out.
Lawyers speaking on behalf of Twitter argue that the micro-blogging site is in the untenable position of “either providing user communications and account information in response to all subpoenas or attempting to vindicate its users’ rights by moving to quash these subpoenas itself.”
I’m not exactly what you’d call a legal expert and my understanding of the inner workings of the American judicial system leaves a lot to be desired. However, what I can deduce from this matter is that Twitter is doing its best to defend the privacy of their users while trying not to break the law themselves nor incur the wrath of the authorities.
So in short it seems that Twitter are exploring all of the various laws and statutes (in this case citing the fact they would be in violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment if they handed over the information) before they pass this user’s data on to the authorities.
I don’t want to dwell on the legal specifics of this story, but instead move onto the point that what people say on social networks is viewed by prosecuting forces as suitable evidence to be used against them. In this case I don’t think telling a protestor to communicate in private would do much good – by their very nature protestors want attention and an audience.
However, be warned – even things said as a joke on Twitter have landed people in legal hot water before. In two separate incidents within the last two years a British man and an Irish national were both detained on suspicion of being terrorists because of tweets meant as jokes.
If the authorities want to get more information about from Twitter, then the company still appear to be fighting your corner as is evident from the Malcolm Harris case. But who knows what will change legally in the near future? If there’s something you need to communicate that might be misinterpreted or taken in a way that could potentially cause problems for you, then it’s probably best to send it privately – or perhaps not at all.