Twitter releases Occupy protester’s tweets to NY judge: Why it caved on users’ privacy.
Twitter surprised and impressed civil liberties groups this summer by taking a stand on behalf of an Occupy Wall Street protester’s privacy. Ordered by the judge in a New York criminal case to dredge up and hand over deleted tweets from activist Malcolm Harris (@destructuremal), Twitter fought back and appealed, arguing its users own their own Twitter data. Groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU joined the fight on Twitter’s side.
The government, though, played dirty. Judge Matthew Sciarrino, Jr. this week told Twitter on Tuesday that if it didn’t fork over Harris’ data within three days, it would face contempt of court and a stiff fine. That’s not the dirty part. As Sciarrino noted, “I can’t put Twitter or the little blue bird in jail, so the only way to punish is monetarily.” The dirty part is that Sciarrino claimed that, in order to determine the appropriate fine, he would need Twitter’s financial records from the past two quarters. That’s anathema for a private startup clawing to keep its competitive edge, as Sciarrino surely knows.
The company’s response was predictable. “They’re going to tweet like canaries,” the New York Post reported this morning. Indeed, Reuters reports that the company asked the judge “pretty please” one last time in court on Friday, then gave up the goods. Harris’ records will remain under seal pending another appeal from his own lawyers next week.