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Judge Rules Twitter Must Turn Over Occupy Protester's Messages

An interesting technological case has emerged from the Occupy Wall Street protests of last fall. At issue is whether prosectors can simply subpoena the tweets of Malcom Harris, one of about 700 protesters arrested last year while walking on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. had already ruled on this once before saying Harris had no jurisdiction to challenge the subpoena because his tweets belonged to Twitter.

The social media company then stepped in and challenged the subpoena on behalf of Harris. Part of their argument was whether authorties would need a judge-issued warrant to attain Twitter records and another part of their argument was that giving Twitter jurisdiction of users' tweets means the company would have to fight on behalf of their users, which is expensive and burdensome.

Sciarrino decided Twitter should be the one with legal standing and that Tweeting is not private.

"If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy," Sciarrino wrote in his opinion. "There is no proprietary interest in your tweets, which you have now gifted to the world. This is not the same as a private email, a private direct message, a private chat, or any of the other readily available ways to have a private conversation via the internet that now exist. Those private dialogues would require a warrant based on probable cause in order to access the relevant information."

Prosecutors, by the way, wanted Harris' tweets because they think they can prove he knew police did not want them on the roadway when he was arrested.

Reuters Anthony De Rosa obtained this statement from Twitter:

"We are disappointed in the judge's decision and are considering our options. Twitter's Terms of Service have long made it absolutely clear that its users *own* their content. We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.