No warrant required: Judge rules police can subpoena tweets, even deleted ones

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According to a recent ruling mentioned on Thompson Reuters, a New York judge ruled that police officers can subpoena all tweets from a Twitter account without the need for a warrant. Equating the tweets to bank account records, criminal court Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. ruled that an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protester couldn’t challenge the third-party subpoena that wanted access to his Twitter account information in addition to a collection of tweets over a specific time period. Malcolm Harris, the Occupy Wall Street protester, was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge last year and faces slightly more than two weeks in prison for disorderly conduct. Harris plead not guilty to the charges and attempted to block the court from accessing the Twitter records.

OWS Brooklyn BridgeDuring late January 2012, the Twitter offices in San Francisco received a faxed subpoena from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Twitter forwarded the subpoena to Harris and he subsequently posted it on Twitter for the public to read. The subpoena specifically requested “user information, including email address,” along with three months’ worth of tweets from Harris’s account.

The tweets cover the time period between September 15, 2011,  two days before the Occupy Wall Street movement began, to December 31, 2011. At the time, prosecutors within the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office made no statement in regards to what they were looking for within the requested tweets.

Interestingly, Harris has deleted all tweets prior to February 11 on the public account in question, therefore Twitter will have to supply the deleted tweets. Harris also claims not to operate the Twitter account as of late. In regards to approving the subpoena, Judge Sciarrino Jr. stated “An analogy may be drawn to the bank record cases where courts have consistently held that an individual has no right to challenge a subpoena issued against the third-party bank. Twitter’s license to use the defendant’s tweets means that the tweets the defendant posted were not his.” The judge made no differentiation between public or protected tweets.

ows arrestAs indicated by the recent events of the trial, the prosecutors are seeking evidence that contradicts the Harris’s claim that police officers directed him to step onto the road that leads to the Brooklyn Bridge. This case is just one of over two thousand cases that are related to the Occupy Wall Street movement, most of which involve defendants charged with misdemeanor charges. A special courtroom has been setup to handle all the OWS cases and is being managed by Judge Sciarrino Jr.

Within the direct response to the motion to quash the subpoena, the judge attempted to add a bit of humor with mocking hashtags. He stated “The New York County District Attorney’s Office seeks to obtain the #Twitter records of @destructuremal using a #subpoena. The defendant is alleged to have participated in a #OWS protest march on October 1, 2011. The defendant, Malcolm Harris, along with several hundred other protesters, were charged with Disorderly Conduct after allegedly marching on to the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge. The defendant moved to #quash that subpoena. That motion is #denied.” Martin Stolar, the attorney representing Harris, plans on filing a motion to reargue the motion.

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