Twitter on Friday agreed to hand over about three months’ worth of tweets to a judge overseeing the criminal trial of an Occupy Wall Street protester, a case that has become a closely watched fight over how much access law enforcement agencies should have to material posted on social networks.
Twitter had been threatened with steep fines if it did not comply with a New York judge’s order to turn over the records in the case of Malcolm Harris, who was arrested with hundreds of others in a protest that drew international attention to the movement against economic inequality.
“We are disappointed that Twitter is essentially giving up the fight,” Harris’ attorney, Martin Stolar, said after Friday’s hearing.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office said Harris’ messages could show whether he was aware of the police orders he’s charged with disregarding during a protest on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Twitter had said the case could put it in the unwanted position of having to take on legal fights that users could otherwise conduct on their own.
Prosecutors want Harris’ tweets and user information from September 15 to December 31 that were taken down from the public site. They said the information contradicts Harris’ claim that he thought police were allowing the protesters onto the roadway. They said he couldn’t claim his privacy rights should shield messages he sent publicly.
The social network company stepped in after the judge turned down Harris’ request earlier this year to block prosecutors from subpoenaing the information from Twitter Inc. Harris had argued that seeking the accompanying user information violated his privacy and free association rights. The data could give prosecutors a picture of his followers, their interactions through replies and retweets and his location at various points, Stolar said.
Twitter’s lawyers argued that Harris had every right to fight the subpoena. Its user agreements say users own content they post and can challenge demands for their records. The company argued in a court filing that it would be “a new and overwhelming burden” for Twitter to have to champion such causes for them.
The judge said he would review all the material he ordered turned over and would provide “relevant portions” to prosecutors.