Twitter Challenges Subpoena Threatening Users’ Consitutional Rights

Remember we told you about the hashtag happy judge a couple of weeks ago who ruled against an Occupy Wall Street protestor attempting to protect his tweets from prosecutors? Well, not only was the judge’s use of hashtags off, but it turns out the judge obviously didn’t have a firm grasp of Twitter’s terms of service either. (Let’s hope.)

Malcolm Harris was arrested when he marched over the Brooklyn Bridge as part of the Occupy Wall Street protest. Harris claims that the police directed protestors to walk on to the bridge and then arrested them; the police disagree. And the prosecutor wanted three months worth of Harris’ tweets to prove the young man was lying.

“#Sounds #good #to #me,” said the hashtag happy judge. (No, not really – but that’s the gist.) And off went the subpoena to Twitter requesting the tweets.

In his ruling, Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr compared Harris to a bank account holder who by law cannot challenge a subpoena of his records served on his bank, saying “Twitter’s license to use the defendant’s Tweets means that the Tweets the defendant posted were not his.”

Well, Judge Sciarrino may want to rethink that ruling. Turns out Harris DOES have standing to challenge the subpoena – and Twitter is going to bat for him (and all of us, really) to prove it. got the following statement from Twitter’s legal counsel Ben Lee:

As we said in our brief, “Twitter’s Terms of Service make absolutely clear that its users own their content.” Our filing with the court reaffirms our steadfast commitment to defending those rights for our users.

As the ACLU points out, this is a big deal.

Law enforcement agencies—both the federal government and state and city entities—are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet. And while the individual Internet users can try to defend their rights in the rare circumstances in which they find out about the requests before their information is turned over, that may not be enough. . . . If Internet users cannot protect their own constitutional rights, the only hope is that Internet companies do so.

In the wake of CISPA recently passing in the House and eerily making its way to the Senate, we need all the help we can get. (If you missed our post on CISPA, you can check it out here.)

So the next time you come across someone working for Twitter, give ’em a big hug. Or just sent a tweet saying thanks – that works too.

(Binary code lock image from Shutterstock)

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