Twitter stands up for user’s right to free speech

Social media site files a motion to quash a New York court’s subpoena

It’s nice to know that in this day and age, when anything and everything a person does can appear on a social media site in a matter of moments, at least one service provider is in the peoples’ corner.

Twitter Inc. is standing up to a New York district attorney’s subpoena requesting account details and communications from user Malcolm Harris, who is being prosecuted in connection with an Occupy Wall Street protest last October.

Twitter took to the printed word, filing a motion to quash the subpoena for all of Harris’ tweets, user information, email address and any and all tweets from Sept. 5, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2011, from his @destructuremal account.

The district attorney’s suit against Harris is one of 700 cases against protesters who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1, 2011.

The microblogger contends that according to Section 2703(d) of the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA), “[a] court issuing an order pursuant to this section, on a motion made promptly by the service provider, may quash or modify such order, if ... compliance with such order otherwise would cause an undue burden on such provider.” 

Twitter adds that the order imposes an undue burden upon for three reasons. First, it contradicts its own terms of service, which state that users own their own content, and that it’s not Twitter’s to release. The website also says that the order deprives Harris of his right to fight on his own behalf.

“To hold otherwise imposes a new and overwhelming burden on Twitter to fight for its users’ rights, since the Order deprives its users of the ability to fight for their own rights when faced with a subpoena from New York State,” Twitter says in the motion.

Twitter also claims the order asks it to violate federal law because the SCA has been held to violate the 4th Amendment because it requires providers to disclose the contents of communication in response to anything less than a search warrant, and no warrant has been issued.

Finally, Twitter also invoked the Uniform Act to Secure the Attendance of Witnesses from Without a State in Criminal Proceedings, which provides procedures whereby a party to a criminal proceeding in one state can either obtain the presence of a witness residing in another state or can compel the production of evidence located in another state.

“Pursuant to the Uniform Act, a criminal litigant cannot compel production of documents from a California resident like Twitter without presenting the appropriate certification to a California court, scheduling a hearing and obtaining a California subpoena for production,” Twitter wrote.

In a separate move, Harris’ lawyer asked the court to dismiss the case.

For more on Twitter, read the Los Angeles Times.

Contributing Author

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