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Twitter told to give up Occupy protester's tweets

Associated Press Modified: July 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm •  Published: July 2, 2012

Prosecutors said the tweets might contradict Harris' claim that he thought protesters were allowed on the roadway. And they said he couldn't invoke privacy rights for messages he sent very publicly, though some stopped being visible when newer ones crowded them out.

Sciarrino ruled in April that Harris didn't have a proprietary interest in his tweets and so couldn't challenge the subpoena, which was issued to Twitter.

Then San Francisco-based Twitter went to court on Harris' behalf, saying he had every right to fight the subpoena. Its user agreements say that users own content they post and can challenge demands for their records, and it would be "a new and overwhelming burden" for Twitter to have to champion such causes for them, the company argued in a court filing.

The judge said the company's argument didn't overcome his view that privacy protections don't apply to Harris' tweets.

"If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy," wrote the social media-savvy Sciarrino, who laced his previous ruling with the hashtag marks used to mark key words in tweets.

Twitter prevailed on another argument: that some of the tweets shouldn't be turned over because a federal law requires a court-approved search warrant, not just a subpoena issued by prosecutors, for stored electronic communications that are less than 180 days old.

Sciarrino found that law did apply — but only to Harris' tweets and information for Dec. 31, since the rest were more than 180 days old by the Saturday of the ruling. It was released Monday.

Prosecutors' bid for the tweets had spurred concern among electronic privacy and civil liberties advocates, and some cheered Twitter's decision to take up the fight at a time when authorities increasingly seek to mine social networks for information.

Monday's ruling "continued to fail to grapple with one of the key issues underlying this case: do individuals give up their ability to go to court to try to protect their free speech and privacy rights when they use the Internet? ... The answer has to be no," said Aden Fine, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing Twitter's position.

Harris' case is set for trial in December.


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