Twitter Hands Over Info After Judge Makes It Almost Impossible For It Not To

from the sad dept

Earlier this week, we talked about a ridiculous situation in NY, where Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. put Twitter in a nearly impossible position if it wanted to keep fighting for the rights of its users to keep private info private. As you may recall, the government used a non-warrant process to seek private info from Occupy Wall Street protestor Malcolm Harris' Twitter account. Earlier decisions had more or less said that Harris had no standing to block the transfer of info, and that Twitter had to hand it over. Twitter sought to appeal the ruling, but the judge announced that if Twitter didn't just hand over the info, he would charge them with contempt. Even worse, he told Twitter to disclose its earning statements from the past two quarters (which is otherwise private info) so he could figure out how much to fine them for contempt. As the EFF notes, by ordering Twitter to hand over the info, it would almost certainly kill off the appeal, since the DA would immediately argue that the appeal was moot since it already had the info.

Put in such a tough position, Twitter did what it had to do and handed over the info the government is seeking on Harris. The only concession the judge gave is that the information is filed under seal for one more week. Hopefully, Twitter can convince another court to stop this in this one short week and to allow a full appeal to be heard.

The EFF has a really good explanation for why both the DA's and the judge's actions in this case are potentially so dangerous:
If Judge Sciarrino is worried that Twitter is making a mountain out of a molehill by continuing to press its challenge to the subpoena, the same has to be asked of the prosecutors who are using a misdemeanor disorderly conduct arrest that occurred more than a year ago as a pretense to obtain a wealth of information. The attempt to obtain this information from Twitter is to prove a point not even really contested: whether Harris was on the bridge during the protest.

This case was shaping up to be a constitutional showdown on a contested and unclear area of the law. Judges much higher up the judicial chain have been wrestling with the complicated issues brought about by the explosion of information turned over to third parties. In her concurring opinion in United States v. Jones, Justice Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote that she "would not assume that all information voluntarily disclosed to some member of the public for a limited purpose is, for that reason alone, disentitled to Fourth Amendment protection." If a Supreme Court justice is thinking about the issues here, why would a state trial court force Twitter into a position where it has to abandon its court case seeking clarity or risk a massive fine in deciding to pursue its appeal? Some have already questioned whether Judge Sciarrino is the right judge to pass on this landmark case.
There are a lot of important issues brought up by everything that's led up to this situation, and it's unfortunate that the judge seems to have decided to toss all of those concerns overboard with his contempt claims against Twitter. Hopefully a higher court puts a stop to this in the next week.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 5:45pm

    I hear the fishing is good this time of year.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 5:48pm

    "Judicial independence" is counterproductive to democracy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 6:20pm

    Hard drives can crash and data can be lost. Hackers can hack in and destroy data. Somebody could hit the wrong button, and oops, there goes the data.
    Not so impossible after all.

     

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  4.  
    icon
    RonKaminsky (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 6:23pm

    EFF with a judicial choice of words?

    EFF: "Some have already questioned whether Judge Sciarrino is the right judge to pass on this landmark case"
    Perhaps I am just not familiar with legal jargon, but methinks that, possibly, this choice of wording may have been intentional.

     

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  5.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 6:31pm

    A word that seems fitting here:

    Ex·tor·tion
    noun
    1. an act or instance of extorting.
    2. the crime of obtaining money or some other thing of value by the abuse of one's office or authority.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 7:33pm

    EFF is missing the boat here. Nothing stops Twitter from continuing the legal battle. If all they want is a guideline for future circumstances, then the release of this particular information right now isn't very relevant to the longer term goal, not any more than any single legal loss might be in the appeals process.

    The courts won't stop them from launching appeals and working it through, but in the mean time the wheels of justice can move forward in other places.

    Seems fitting that once again the EFF is missing the boat or yelling "the sky is falling" for no other reason than headlines.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 8:43pm

    Re: Standing up for the little guy

    You might think it a bit less trivial if Twitter was trying to protect your information.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    DOlz, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 9:13pm

    Re:

    Even before digital it was possible to lose 17 & 1/2 minutes in the middle of a reel to reel tape.

     

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  9.  
    icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 9:54pm

    Re:

    You seem to miss the point that was pointed out in this article. If the information is turned over, the appeal is DOA. What's the point of appealing an order to turn info over if the info is already turned over. Just because Twitter wants to keep fighting on principle doesn't mean the courts will tolerate that.

    My question is; why do you seem so keen on getting personal information not relevant to the case into the case? Why do you support this fishing expedition?

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 10:23pm

    Re: Re:

    Duh, fishing expeditions were the bread and butter of all MAFIAA operations.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    PCCare247 (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 10:36pm

    Law Above all

    This incident shows that there is an entity which is noticing every step of Social Networking majors.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 12:34am

    "Some have already questioned whether Judge Sciarrino is the right judge to pass on this landmark case."

    No question. Judge Sciarrino is not the right judge.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 15th, 2012 @ 1:09am

    Re:

    The courts won't stop them from launching appeals and working it through, but in the mean time the wheels of justice can move forward in other places.

    As stated in the article (you really ought to read before your usual slamming of that which you know nothing about), once the info is in the DA's hands, the appeal gets thrown out as moot.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 1:24am

    Ever get this feeling that some people just have too much power?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 2:32am

    Re: Re:

    Mike, I read your comment exactly as:

    " it would almost certainly kill off the appeal, since the DA would immediately argue that the appeal was moot since it already had the info. "

    That is a whole lot of supposin', if you ask me. Twitter could easily note that the appeal is in part to determine it's future course of action in similar cases. Further, if the appear is successful, the DA would have to destroy the records, and any movement is the case based only on this information would be blocked at trial.

    Handing over the information does not end the legal argument, far from it. I just think you are drawing a conclusion that isn't foregone.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 3:42am

    I doubt that seal will stop a government that's already proven it thinks itself above the law. They're probably already going over the data with a fine-toothed comb.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 7:27am

    Child abuser

    Matthew Sciarrino is a child abuser.

    He is a perverse pig unworthy of judicial office.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    The eejit (profile), Sep 15th, 2012 @ 8:14am

    Re:

    Well, it is when it's wrongly applied.

     

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  19.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Sep 15th, 2012 @ 8:17am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think yoiu're missing the point: that is, that once the DA has the relevant information, the presiding judge can not only rule that the inrformation is no longer private, but that Twitter can be fined for "vexatious litigation" in their appeal.

     

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  20.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Sep 15th, 2012 @ 8:20am

    Re:

    No, but I get the felling that, should aliens actually make contact, they will shoot us all to "put us out of our misery."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Umm, the judge cannot rule that something is public because of a previous ruling, therefore they cannot reconsider the previous ruling. That is bootstrapped logic at it's best.

    Twitter cannot stop the information from being given to the DA, but they can still appeal and if the court changes it's mind, the DA would not be able to use that information as the basis of any criminal case.

    Twitter's real interest here is for the NEXT time this happens, because without appeal, they are left with little recourse the next time around.

     

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  22.  
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    Thomas (profile), Sep 15th, 2012 @ 10:17am

    Just shows..

    how much the government is trying to squash and punish legal protests. Next thing you know they will go back to letting police dogs loose on the crowds to get rid of protesters. If that doesn't work, start shooting.

    The government/cops absolutely hate protesters of all kinds and will do anything to stop them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 1:42pm

    Re: Just shows..

    Except actually listen to them.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2012 @ 4:54pm

    Re: Re:

    Further Mike, consider this from BBC, posted today:

    "Twitter has now surrendered the messages to the court where the trial is taking place, but they will remain uninspected while an appeal lodged by Mr Harris' lawyer is heard. A hearing on the appeal is due to be heard within seven days."

    So it's not a 100% thing, is it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2012 @ 5:44am

    Re:

    you need people with power, but they need to handle it with great care, responsability and scrupules. For example a cop who gets annoyed to the point of confistating video/photo from innocent bystanders should have the common decency to hand in his badge, because losing your cool is unfit for those who hold more power than the average joe.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Gregg, Sep 17th, 2012 @ 8:04am

    The long run

    The Government is so short sited. Not respecting the privacy of peoples communication via web based services will just mean that the people they really need to find out about, just won't use the internet for communicating at all. And this is already happening.

    Very short sighted and ignorant. This judge is just throwing a power trip and just adds "another brick to the wall".

     

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  27.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Sep 17th, 2012 @ 9:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Are you doing it on purpose? Twitter can do that yes but the judge enveloped Twitter in a legal net that makes it virtually impossible to 1- get an appeal decision in time and 2- actually get the appeal heard since the info is already given.

    Twitter's real interest here is for the NEXT time this happens, because without appeal, they are left with little recourse the next time around.

    Read it again. And then again. Till you actually get the point and notice that the judge blocked the appeal path.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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