Twitter Challenges Court Ruling That Twitter Users Have No Standing To Protect Their Own Account Info

from the good-for-them dept

We've seen that Twitter has taken a legal stance in the past to try to protect the rights of its users against the government, and it appears to be doing so again. The State of New York has filed a lawsuit against Malcolm Harris, an Occupy Wall St. protestor who was charged with disorderly conduct. Harris has a Twitter account at @destructuremal, and the government issued an infamous 2703(d) order to compel Twitter to hand over information about Harris' Twitter account. Twitter, as it should, informed Harris of the request, and Harris sought to quash the order. Amazingly, the court refused, not because it disagreed with the stance, but because it claimed that Harris had no standing to challenge the disclosure of his own information, by literally claiming that Harris had no interest in his own tweets.

This was based on a total misreading of Twitter's terms of service, which have been clear from very early on that poster's retain control over the content in their tweets. All they do is grant Twitter a license to display them. The NY court, bizarrely, interpreted this to mean the user gave up control over the tweets, even though Twitter's own terms of service say exactly the opposite.

In response, Twitter has now stood up for its user and filed its own motion in support of Harris, that the April 20th order stating that Harris had no standing should be rejected. It points to the above, as well as to US law that says users can challenge 2703(d) orders. On top of that, it points out that complying clearly seems to violate the 4th Amendment. In an interesting argument, it relies on the recently decided Jones case that said that even if certain information is "public" (e.g., location or tweets), it may still require a warrant to collect.

As Twitter notes, saying that its users can't move to quash such requests sets a problematic precedent:
If the Order stands, Twitter will be put in the untenable position of either providing user communications and account information in response to all subpoenas or attempting to vindicate its users’ rights by moving to quash these subpoenas itself--even though Twitter will often know little or nothing about the underlying facts necessary to support their users’ argument that the subpoenas may be improper.
It's nice to see a company like Twitter standing up for its users. It's unfortunately rare these days, when many companies simply roll over the second the government comes calling.

Filed Under: malcolm harris, occupy wall st, terms of service
Companies: twitter

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  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 May 2012 @ 3:01pm

    Like this has never happened before.
    This is just another way the courts are finding new fun ways to make sure that "bad people" get what they deserve. The problem is that most of these "bad people" are merely people the Government does not like and might infact not have broken any laws. Once upon at time you could trust that if a Government lawyer brought you something it was truthful and legit, this is no longer the case.
    Judge Howell deciding Does have no interest in a 3rd party getting their information until they are named in a lawsuit.
    The Judge in the dajaz1 case who blindly kept signing orders, ignoring deadlines, and keeping the defense lawyers locked out of the case.
    The Hutari (sp) Militia case.
    And I am willing to bet there are tons more of these cases where Judges make rulings based on "but the Government guys wear white hats".
    The entire point of laws is to make sure that it is balance not just signed off on because the Government wants it.

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