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.

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Comments on “Twitter Hands Over Info After Judge Makes It Almost Impossible For It Not To”

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27 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

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?

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Gregg says:

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”.

Ninja (profile) says:

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.

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