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Twitter relents, hands over Occupy user's data to court

updated 08:20 pm EDT, Fri September 14, 2012

Turns over data, but asks it remain sealed pending appeal

On the last day before it would be assessed a fine, Twitter has agreed to hand over to authorities the data it had been withholding in a minor New York criminal case. According to The Washington Post, Twitter's capitulation is only partial, as the company is still appealing Judge Sciarrino's decision ruling that a Twitter user's tweets are public statements. The company has, though, turned over the subpoenaed information, even as it protests that the options facing the company were "unfair" and "unjust."

At issue is whether the public the tweets of Twitter user Malcolm Harris constitute public statements. Harris, affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street protest of last year, is charged with the minor offense of disobeying police orders by moving along with other protestors to continue their demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge. Harris maintains that he and other protestors were directed toward the bridge by police; prosecutors contend that they did so in disobedience, and they have subpoenaed Harris' contemporaneous tweets as a means of demonstrating such.

Twitter resisted turning over Harris' data, claiming that a users tweets were their own private property. Twitter's lawyers stated that if the tweets were public statements, as the prosecution alleged and Judge Sciarrino eventually ruled, then there would be no need to subpoena them. This week, Sciarrino gave Twitter three days to either turn over the data in question, prove the company was not in contempt of court due to its resistance, or turn over its last two quarters of financial documents in order for the judge to assess a fine.

Twitter today turned over a sealed envelope thick with most of the data prosecutors had requested. Some of the data is less than 180 days old, and federal law requires a court-approved search warrant in addition to a subpoena in order to obtain stored electronic communications less than 180 days old. The company has requested that the court leave the envelope sealed, as Twitter is still appealing Sciarrino's original decision. Sciarrino has said that he will keep the records sealed at least until there is a hearing for the matter; that hearing is scheduled for September 21.

Harris' trial is scheduled for December of this year. If convicted, he faces up to 15 days in jail or a $500 fine.

By Electronista Staff
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