On Saturday, New York Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino ordered Twitter to hand over the account information and tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protester arrested in 2011 on the Brooklyn Bridge during a protest march. The court rejected the contention that handing over Malcolm Harris’ records by Twitter would violate his privacy.
The judge observed, “If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.” The judge said that he would personally review the information and release only relevant portions to the defense and the prosecutors.
This is the second time that Judge Sciarrino has rejected an attempt to quash the subpoena served on Twitter.
Prosecutors seeking Harris’ tweets maintain that the posts can prove that Harris had knowledge of the police order asking protesters not to walk on the bridge’s roadway. Defense lawyers say that at least 700 Occupy members arrested during the Oct.1 march have indicated that the police appeared to escort them onto the bridge and then suddenly started arresting them. That would mean that the police conspired to mislead the protesters into believing that they were following police orders, while herding them to a spot where the police could sport a trumped up cause of action to arrest them.
Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner said that the company would consider legal options. She said, “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.”
Martin Solar, the attorney for Harris said that he was considering an appeal and that the court should not use “pre-21st century law” to decide issues of modern technology. In April, Sciarrino had found that Harris, who is a Brooklyn based writer, lacked locus standi to challenge the subpoena because the information belonged to Twitter. Following that decision, Twitter filed a motion to quash the subpoena on behalf of Harris.
Interestingly, the findings in the case would obviously have other effects, if the court finally finds that user-generated content submitted on a common web platform belongs to the company that owned the platform and did not belong to the user. This would upset current business models used by sites such as Huffington Post and other similar media sites, where writers who write for free with the promise that they maintain ownership of their content could claim misrepresentation. In fact, writers who had submitted free content to Huffington Post before Huffington sold itself for big bucks to AOL, had previously submitted that Huffington created its goodwill, which it sold for money, on user-generated content without compensating users. If the courts now find that user-generated content belongs to the company providing a common platform for publishing, then we can expect all kinds of lawsuits and online platforms closing down all of a sudden, thus changing the nature of the internet.