Twitter ordered to release user's private data

New York judge says produce data by Friday or face fines and contempt of court charges.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

Twitter must give up the private information of a user arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protest last year or face fines and contempt charges, a New York State Supreme Court  ruled Tuesday.

The decision came on an appeal from the social networking giant that asked the court to reverse an earlier judgment requiring Twitter to provide the private data of Malcom Harris, who was arrested with 700 other protesters during a Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstration last October.

Twitter was ordered by New York State Supreme Court New York City Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. to produce the information by Friday or face a fine that Sciarrino said he would calculate based on the company’s earnings statements from the past six months. The judge asked Twitter representatives to provide those statements.

Bloomberg quoted Sciarrino as saying, “I can’t put Twitter or the little blue bird in jail, so the only way to punish is monetarily.”

The order calls on Twitter to supply information that links Harris to the account responsible for the Tweets and those 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. He was told he did not own that data, which is stored on Twitter servers. The decision could have implications down the road for cases that involve information stored on social media networks.

Despite all the court hearings, the Tweets may not have any value to New York law enforcement. 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."

 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.  

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