Twitter hands over protester's private data

Twitter wanted no part of a fight with the New York State Supreme Court.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

Twitter complied with a judge’s deadline Friday and submitted three months of Tweets by an end-user who was arrested last year in an Occupy Wall Street protest, the Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, New York State Supreme Court Judge New York City Criminal Court judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. ordered Twitter to produce the information in three days or face a fine that he would calculate based on the company’s earnings statements from the past six months.

It is not uncommon for Twitter to give up end-user data as part of legal challenges. According to Twitter’s Transparency Report from July 2012, on a global basis the company provides “some or all data” in requests for user information 63% of the time.

The court order for the data came as part of an appeal from the social networking giant that asked the court to reverse an earlier judgment. The case involves the private data of Twitter user Malcom Harris, who was arrested with 700 other protesters during an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstration last October.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg quoted Sciarrino: “I can’t put Twitter or the little blue bird in jail, so the only way to punish [Twitter] is monetarily.”

Sciarrino’s order called on Twitter to supply information that might link Harris to the account responsible for the Tweets that were posted publicly.

In May, Twitter stepped into the fray after Harris tried to thwart the court’s attempt to obtain three-months of his Tweets. The court contended he did not own that data, which is stored on Twitter servers.

Harris Tweeted in May “ The secret is: there's nothing incriminating in the tweets.”

But the case is not so much about the content of the Tweets as the protection of data, private or otherwise, users put on the Internet.

An ACLU spokesman told The Huffington Post UK last week: "It is becoming increasingly clear that law enforcement around the U.S. is aggressively issuing subpoenas and obtaining court orders to obtain information about people’s internet activities and communications. We don’t know exactly how often, because the vast majority of these requests are never made public, and many are kept secret by court order. But we do know that it is occurring a lot."

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