Twitter defends subscriber rights | The Jackal

10 May 2012

Twitter defends subscriber rights

Yesterday, Forbes reported:

Twitter is stepping up its legal battle for users’ privacy: First it fought to reveal secret warrantless law enforcement requests for its users’ data. Now it’s fighting to block one such request altogether.

In a motion (PDF here) filed yesterday in a New York state court, Twitter asked a judge to block a subpoena that would force the company to turn over the data of Malcolm Harris, a participant in the Occupy Wall Street protests who was arrested in a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge in October for “disorderly conduct.”

The prosecutors in the case have sent Twitter what’s known as a 2703 order, which allows prosecutors to access some types of a user’s data without a warrant under the Stored Communications Act (SCA).

In its motion, Twitter offers three arguments against turning over that data: First, that the data belongs to Harris under Twitter’s terms of service, and handing it over would violate both those terms of service and the SCA. Second, it argues that handing over Harris’s data would violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against searches without a warrant, which it argues applies even when the government is seeking information about allegedly public activities like a user’s tweets. And third, it points out that Twitter is in California, and argues that the New York prosecutors need to make their case to a California court to obtain Twitter’s data.

It's good to see that Twitter is willing to go into bat for its users and try to uphold its agreement with them. They have a strong case, being that Twitter’s terms of service unequivocally state that its users retain their rights to any content submitted, posted or displayed.

There are also blatant holes in the Prosecutors case, being that the SCA only applies to information that has been in the public domain for more than 180 days. The requested information is not yet within that timeframe, and therefore they basically don't have a case.

I'm not so sure that the third defence will stack up though. The nature of the Internet is that it does not recognize boundaries and an alleged crime can impact people all around the world no matter where it originates from. But I doubt the judge will go past Twitters first and second arguments. Good stuff.