Twitter challenges court order over user information

On April 23, a New York judge had ruled that prosecutors don’t need to have a warrant to subpoena your Twitter account. 


Lauren Rae Orsini


Published May 8, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 5:25 pm CDT

Twitter has refused a court order requiring it to turn over personal information about one of its users, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported.
The social network is coming to the defense of user Malcolm Harris (formerly @destructuremal), who is being prosecuted by the District Attorney of Manhattan in connection to activities involving the Occupy Wall Street protests. On April 23, a judge in New York ruled that prosecutors don’t need to have a warrant to subpoena your Twitter account, since that information is made publicly available through a third-party service.

However, Twitter has just filed a motion in state court to quash the court order.

Law enforcement agencies perceive privacy dramatically differently online. The ACLU claims they’ve become increasingly demanding when it comes to users’ online personal information. However, since users rely on social networks and Internet companies to store data, subpoenaed personal information is sometimes turned over before users even realize.

“[O]ne potential problem for free speech on the Internet is that, for almost all of us, we need to rely on Internet companies,” ACLU blogger Aden Fine wrote.

“And while the government is bound by the First Amendment, the First Amendment may not always prevent private companies from restricting our free speech rights.”

However, Twitter users have less reason to worry. The network has a history of protecting its users’ information from courts of law.

In December, Twitter refused to respond to a subpoena from the Suffolk, Massachusetts District Attorney’s Office to turn over information about two users connected to the Occupy Boston protests. Instead, it shared the subpoena with its users to keep them informed.

Though Twitter could not comment on the individual users, @p0isAn0N and @Occupy_Boston, spokesperson Matt Graves said it was Twitter’s policy to protect users’ privacy.

“We can’t comment on any specific order or request,” Graves told ReadWriteWeb. “However, to help users protect their rights, it is our policy to notify our users about law enforcement and governmental requests for their information, unless we are prevented by law from doing so.”

If all social networks felt the way Twitter did, the Web would be a far safer place to exercise free speech.

Illustration by Lauren Orsini

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*First Published: May 8, 2012, 5:50 pm CDT