Over the last few years, with the growing recognition of the concept of "flash mobs" or "smart mobs" it's no surprise that various tools have been created to help manage large crowds of diverse individuals who converge for a single purpose. One of those was a project called TXTmob, which was widely used in 2004 by people protesting the Republican National Convention in New York City. Lots of folks used the service to send out group messages to others participating, and to quickly organize and disperse as necessary. As you may recall, there were some confrontations between protesters and the police, resulting in a bunch of arrests. Many of those arrested claim that the arrests were unfair, and have sued the city. As part of its defense, lawyers for New York City have now sent a broad subpoena to the guy who created and ran TXTmob
demanding, among other things, many of the text messages sent via the service, including the identities of the senders and recipients. Needless to say, this seems like an overly broad request -- and Tad Hirsch, the MIT PhD. student who set up the service, claims that much of that information no longer exists. Even if it did exist, it seems to be overstepping privacy bounds to demand that Hirsch hand over such information, especially without any specifics included. The whole thing smacks of using subpoenas to intimidate people.