Your tweets may be used in court

A judge in New York ruled Monday that prosecutors don’t need to have a warrant to subpoena your Twitter account.


Kris Holt

Internet Culture

Published Apr 24, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 6:06 pm CDT

Anything you tweet may be used against you in a court of law.

A judge in New York ruled Monday 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.

Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris was informed earlier this year by Twitter that his account had been subpoenaed. He attempted to block the subpoena, citing concerns such as the method by which the subpoena was delivered to Twitter—it was faxed to the company’s San Francisco office.

Harris is facing up to 15 days in prison for disorderly conduct. He was on the Brooklyn Bridge last fall, when a march took place. He pleaded not guilty to the charge.

“New York courts have yet to specifically address whether a criminal defendant has standing to quash a subpoena issued to a third-party online social networking service seeking to obtain the defendant’s user information and postings,” wrote Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. in his decision. “Nonetheless, an analogy may be drawn to the bank record cases where courts have consistently held that an individual has no right to challenge a subpoena issued against the third-party bank.”

“Twitter’s license to use the defendant’s tweets means that the tweets the defendant posted were not his,” the judge added.

Through the subpoena, the prosecutors are hoping to ascertain whether Harris’s claim that the police either led or escorted him into stepping onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge holds up. The prosecutors believe that tweets made on the @destructuremal account (which is believed to have belonged to Harris), contradict this anticipated trial defence.

As such, Sciarrino ruled that Harris, who also helped convince many that Radiohead were to play a free Occupy Wall Street concert, had no standing to quash the subpoena. Harris’s attorney Martin Stolar claimed that he would appeal Sciarrino’s ruling.

There’s a slight twist in the tale, since Harris apparently hasn’t operated @destructuremal in months. However, his subpoena covers the tweets made through the account from September 15 through December 31.

In the decision, Scriarrino showed a little Twitter humor through the use of hashtags:

“The New York County District Attorney’s Office seeks to obtain the #Twitter records of @destructuremal using a #subpoena. The defendant is alleged to have participated in a #OWS protest march on October 1, 2011. The defendant, Malcolm Harris, along with several hundred other protesters, were charged with Disorderly Conduct after allegedly marching on to the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge. The defendant moved to #quash that subpoena. That motion is #denied.”

Of course, Scriarrino is no stranger to social media in the courtroom. The judge was involved in a 2009 controversy for becoming Facebook friends with some lawyers.

Photo via Twitter

Share this article
*First Published: Apr 24, 2012, 12:37 pm CDT