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.