updated 09:12 pm EDT, Tue September 11, 2012
Microblogging site faces contempt charge
The ongoing privacy battle between Twitter and New York's courts took another turn today, as New York State Supreme Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. ordered the microblogging site to turn over information on an Occupy Wall Street protestor's posts or suffer a fine. In announcing the ruling today, Sciarrino noted that a contempt charge was the only way the court had of bending Twitter to the court's ruling, noting that he could not "put Twitter or the little blue bird in jail." Bloomberg reports that Twitter has asked for more time, claiming that it has not had enough time to appeal the court's initial ruling -- from June 30 of this year -- that it must turn over the user's records.
Twitter now has three days to demonstrate that it is not in contempt of court. Should the company fail to turn over the subpoenaed data by September 14, it must provide its earnings statements from the last two quarters so that the judge can decide on a fine. Sciarrino had previously asked Twitter to show that it was not in contempt of court after the company refused to produce information on Twitter posts that had been subpoenaed by the District Attorney of Manhattan.
At issue is whether Twitter user Malcolm Harris posted information proving that he and other protesters disobeyed police orders in moving their demonstration to the Brooklyn Bridge. Harris contends that he and the nearly 700 other protesters that were arrested were instructed to move to the roadway along the bridge. Prosecutors hold that Harris' contemporaneous tweets will prove Harris' disobedience.
Harris is charged with disobeying an order from the police, a minor criminal offense.
Twitter maintains that the tweets its users post remain their own private communication. Prosecutors contend, and the court has ruled, that the tweets in question constitute public statements and should therefore be turned over. Ruling on the case in July, Sciarrino wrote that "What you give to the public belongs to the public."
Twitter has replied that, if the information subpoenaed by Manhattan's District attorney were indeed public, then prosecutors would have no need to subpoena it.
Due to its privacy implications, the case has attracted national attention. The ACLU weighed in with a blog post around the time of Sciarrino's original decision, decrying the access the ruling would give the government to a person's Internet activities.