Last month it was Google that revealed an “alarming” jump in government requests for search results censorship, including a 49 per cent rise in Government of India requests.
This month the U.S. justice system showed that Twitter users challenging state power would not be spared from intrusive scrutiny either, as a Manhattan Criminal Court judge ruled that the micro-blogging site had to hand over the tweets of an Occupy Movement protestor to the authorities.
Upholding the validity of a subpoena on the Twitter messages posted by Malcolm Harris (23), Judge Matthew Sciarrino, Jr. said in an order this week that he intended to review approximately three months’ worth of tweets by Mr. Harris and would pass “relevant portions” on to prosecutors.
Twitter, which invoked the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. constitution for the protection of its users’ freedom of speech and privacy respectively, won praise for its attempt to fend off the legal challenge by the Manhattan District Attorney.
Yet ruling on the case of Mr. Harris, who was reportedly cited for disorderly conduct in one of the early-phase protests of the Occupy Movement last October on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, Judge Sciarrino argued that Mr. Harris had “no reasonable expectation of privacy for tweets.”
Comparing the tweets to “screaming out of a window,” the Judge said in his 11-page decision, “The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts.”
In seeking to avoid the demands of the subpoena Twitter resorted to the argument that its terms of service “have long made it absolutely clear that [Twitter] users ‘own’ their content,” Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner was quoted as saying in a statement.
She added that while Twitter was “disappointed” with the latest ruling, it had a steadfast commitment to users and their rights and would continue to consider its legal options.
The question of ownership rights of tweets became a core issue after Judge Sciarrino rejected Mr. Harris’ bid to quash the subpoena in April, arguing that he had no locus standi in the matter because the data belonged to Twitter.