Twitter Must Turn Over Protester’s Diabolical Plans

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Photo: Mario Tama/2011 Getty Images

A New York judge has ordered Twitter to surrender more than three months of messages from Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris, who was charged with disorderly conduct during mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge last fall. Harris first sought to quash the subpoena by arguing that it was too broad, only to be told he didn't own his dispatches and have Twitter step in to fight on behalf of users' privacy. But in a ruling today, the court concluded, "The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts. What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you."

The account in question, @destructuremal, has since been cleared and restarted, so it contains none of the messages at stake; prosecutors argue the tweets demonstrate that Harris knowingly broke the law. (He now tweets from a separate account.)

"The world of social media is evolving, as is the law around it," Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. wrote in his decision. "While the U.S. Constitution clearly did not take into consideration any tweets by our founding fathers, it is probably safe to assume that Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson would have loved to tweet their opinions as much as they loved to write for the newspapers of their day (sometimes under anonymous pseudonyms similar to today's twitter user names). Those men, and countless soldiers in service to this nation, have risked their lives for our right to tweet or to post an article on Facebook; but that is not the same as arguing that those public tweets are protected."

Twitter responded in a statement: "We are disappointed in the judge's decision and are considering our options. Twitter's Terms of Service have long made it absolutely clear that its users *own* their content. We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights." (Update: "We are pleased that the court has ruled for a second time that the Tweets at issue must be turned over," said Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel R. Alonso in a statement. "We look forward to Twitter's complying and to moving forward with the trial.")

Harris, meanwhile, said he's weighing his next move as well. "I'm not sure what the ruling is going to mean, but I remember something from civics class about an extensive appeals system," he told Daily Intel. "It's shocking they're still pouring these kind of state resources down the drain over a politicized traffic ticket."