Occupy Wall Street protester seeks to block tweets subpoena

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 21, 2012 1:43 PM
Occupy Wall Street protester seeks to block tweets subpoena

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Occupy Wall Street protester who took part in a mass protest in New York last year is accusing a judge of overstepping his authority by ordering Twitter to hand over the demonstrator's tweets and account information to prosecutors.

Malcolm Harris, a Brooklyn-based writer, filed a civil proceeding on Monday seeking to block the judge's ruling.

Harris was arrested during a protest on the Brooklyn Bridge last October and charged with disorderly conduct in a case that is one of a handful in which authorities have sought to use social media to prosecute defendants.

Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino has rebuffed separate attempts by Harris and Twitter to quash a subpoena served on the company by the Manhattan district attorney's office seeking Harris' tweets for September to December.

Harris claims the information sought by prosecutors is akin to surveillance records, because computer logs will show his location when he connected to the site.

"In this case, anyone reviewing the information and material Twitter has been ordered to turn over will know each time - between September 15 and December 30, 2011 - Harris logged into his Twitter account, where he was when he logged in, how long he remained there and both what he did and who he communicated with while he was logged in," Harris' lawyers wrote in a memorandum accompanying the petition.

Prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney's office have said in court papers that Harris' tweets could demonstrate he knew police had ordered protesters not to walk onto the bridge roadway.

Harris' lawyer, Martin Stolar of the National Lawyers Guild, and other lawyers for the arrested protesters have said police appeared to lead the march onto the roadway before suddenly arresting hundreds of them.

Sciarrino ruled in April that Harris did not have the standing to challenge the subpoena, since Twitter owned his tweets. In June, he rejected Twitter's argument that turning over the tweets violated Harris' privacy and free speech rights, saying the tweets were publicly posted without any expectation of privacy.

Twitter has filed a separate notice of appeal, though it has not yet submitted its formal brief.

Criminal defendants typically are required to wait until the end of criminal proceedings before filing appeals. But Stolar said Sciarrino's ruling threatened Harris' privacy and required an immediate response.

Harris' filing also seeks an order requiring Sciarrino to recognize his standing to challenge the subpoena on free speech grounds and the Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches.

The Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment on the filing.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)