Court decides that tweets are not private, can be subpoenaed

Twitter’s attempt to stand up for its users fails in court

The latest legal question emerging from the murky depths of social media is: can tweets be subpoenaed? One judge, at least, thinks they can.

This all began with Occupy Wall Street, oddly enough. Malcolm Harris was protesting in conjunction with the movement when he was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge last year, along with around 700 others. Prosecutors attempted to subpoena his email address, Twitter login information and all of the tweets he sent between Sept. 5, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2011.

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. originally ruled that Harris could not challenge the subpoena, because his tweets belonged to Twitter. The social media company took Harris’s place in challenging the subpoena, arguing that the judge’s ruling contradicts the service’s own terms of use, which state that a user owns his or her own tweets. The company also argued that this interpretation places an undue burden on Twitter to fight on its users’ behalf, as they cannot fight for themselves. Lastly, Twitter claimed that authorities would need a warrant in order to force it to disclose users’ tweets.

Judge Sciarrino, however, was not moved by Twitter’s attempt to protect its users’ privacy. "If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy," he wrote. “There is no proprietary interest in your tweets, which you have now gifted to the world. This is not the same as a private email, a private direct message, a private chat, or any of the other readily available ways to have a private conversation via the internet that now exist.”

Read the full story at NPR.


For more InsideCounsel stories about Twitter, see below:

Twitter stands up for user’s right to free speech

What not to do when reviewing job applicants’ social media pages

New Twitter patent policy gives power to inventors

11 tips for crafting a social media policy

Twitter sues 5 most aggressive tool providers and spammers

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