Twitter Continues Uphill Trudge in Freedom-of-Tweets Legal Battle
Twitter filed a motion to appeal a federal judge’s decision in ongoing litigation between the state of New York and Malcolm Harris, a Twitter user involved in last year’s Occupy Wall Street protests.
The original decision passed down by Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. — which Twitter is fighting — ordered the company to hand over information on Harris’s Twitter activity during the protests.
“Twitter users own their Tweets,” Twitter legal counsel Ben Lee tweeted on Monday. “They have a right to fight invalid government requests, and we continue to stand with them in that fight.”
Twitter has opposed the request from the state of New York since the beginning of the trial against Harris, who, along with hundreds of others, was charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly marching in protest on the Brooklyn Bridge. Much of the defense stems from Twitter’s idealistic team of lawyers, who have been active in their protective stance of Twitter messages as free speech (it helps to have the full support of the ACLU as well).
But in another, more self-interested way, Twitter is acting to safeguard itself against future requests for information. If Twitter were required to submit information on its users each time it was subpoenaed — rather than the user himself being asked for that information — that could amount to untold numbers of legal cases that the microblogging service would potentially be sucked into. Instead, Twitter wants to prove that users “own their tweets,” and therefore hold the legal standing themselves to challenge any requests for their Twitter information.
As the ACLU wrote disgustedly, “The court affirmed its earlier ruling that people like Harris can’t even go to court to protect their own constitutional rights when it comes to the Internet because, according to the court, we give up our constitutional rights whenever we provide information to a third-party Internet service like Twitter.” The ACLU holds that Sciarrino’s decision is at odds with similar Supreme Court decisions and federal cases from across the country.
Twitter’s hope is that its appeal has the chance to overturn Sciarrino’s ruling, thereby allowing Harris to challenge on his own behalf New York prosecutors’ request for his Twitter information.