Malcom Harris was just one of 700 Occupy protesters arrested and charged with disorderly conduct (which carries a $250 fine) on May 31.
Though it seems relatively inconsequential to international news, but it became a big deal when a New York judge asked Twitter to hand over Harris’ deleted tweet history. In a move backed by the ACLU, Twitter refused, saying that Harris owns his own Twitter data.
Slate.com’s Will Oremus explains the next move by the courts:
The government, though, played dirty. Judge Matthew Sciarrino, Jr. this week told Twitter on Tuesday that if it didn’t fork over Harris’ data within three days, it would face contempt of court and a stiff fine. That’s not the dirty part. As Sciarrino noted, “I can’t put Twitter or the little blue bird in jail, so the only way to punish is monetarily.” The dirty part is that Sciarrino claimed that, in order to determine the appropriate fine, he would need Twitter’s financial records from the past two quarters. That’s anathema for a private startup clawing to keep its competitive edge, as Sciarrino surely knows.
What was Twitter to do? Fact is, contempt of court is no joke and beyond the cost of the fines, this would most likely have been a battle Twitter would have waged at their own expense, and most likely ultimately lost.
And while the charges are basically inconsequential, the precedent is not. What is being said here is that users’ data does not belong to them, and as much as organizations like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation had hoped the result here would be different, it’s hard to see how this case could have ended differently.
Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn’t really blame the company for its decision Friday. “I feel bad for them. I think they were trying to do the right thing,” EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury told me. Given how minor the criminal charges against Harris are, he added, “it feels like the New York City prosecutors are using this as an attempt to get the law shaped in a way that they think is beneficial for them, and to kind of make a point about it. The fact that there won’t be this chance for it to run up the appellate courts is unfortunate.”
What do you think of this case? Does this change the way you see privacy in social media, or have you always been of the mind that none of it belonged to you in the first place?
Should Twitter have fought longer and harder for users’ privacy?