Withdrawn Twitter Subpoenas Threaten Free Speech

In what is being called a “fishing expedition” the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office withdrew the subpoenas it had sent to Twitter in an attempt to obtain information from two activists’ accounts.

But we noted they’ve been withdrawn, so why care? The fact that they were even issued should concern you.

In September of 2012, after being faced with potentially stiff fines for noncompliance, Twitter handed over an Occupy Wall Street protestor’s tweets. Twitter had fought the good fight against the subpoena, but after ticking off a New York State Supreme Court Judge, Twitter was left with few options.

THAT whole situation was reason enough to worry – and now we have this: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a place that tasks itself with “defending your rights in the digital world” reports that:

The fishing expedition cut short by the DA last week consisted of a pair of subpoenas issued to Twitter, seeking tweets, photos, and a trove of other information related to the accounts of two activists, Robert Donohoe and Lauren Smith, whom the SF DA has charged with a number of offenses stemming from a Columbus Day anti-capitalist protest.  After Twitter notified the users, attorneys for Donohoe and Smith opposed the subpoenas, and ACLU and EFF supported their efforts.

Okay, so they made a mistake. Mistakes happen, right? No, not really:

Not only did the subpoenas to Twitter violate federal law (the Stored Communications Act makes clear that the government cannot use a subpoena to gain access to the content of communications), but they violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution as well. . . . [And] The subpoenas issued in this case were anything but narrow.  Not only did the requests seek Donohoe and Smith’s own tweets, but also all communications by any Twitter user (presumably including both tweets and private Direct Messages) that even mentioned them.  Further damning the DA’s subpoenas was the wildly overbroad ten-month time period they covered.

The EFF (in its post) goes on to share its concern that “throughout the country, law enforcement is subpoenaing this information almost routinely in connection with criminal investigations,” pointing to not only the Occupy Wall Street case as an example, but also  “Google’s semi-annual Transparency Report, [which] has shown growing law enforcement requests for user data.”

So tweet it out, boys and girls. Let the government know these subpoenas are not escaping our notice and that we won’t stand for them.

(Free speech image from Shutterstock)