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Brand Thinking Blog
Posted on May 21, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In this corner, weighing the claims of New York law enforcement, Judge Matthew Scarriano! In the red corner, at 140 million users, micro blog giant, Twitter! Okay, touch gloves and come out at the bell. Ding!
The other day, Twitter stepped into the litigation ring by refusing to comply with a New York State court order to hand over the personal data of one of its users. Instead, Twitter filed its own motion requesting the court quash the order. The ACLU has hailed Twitter’s action as “a big deal.”
A little background: an Occupy Wall Street protester, Malcolm Harris, was arrested last year for disorderly conduct during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge. As part of his prosecution by law enforcement last winter, New York prosecutors served Twitter with a subpoena requiring it release data on Mr. Harris As Digital Trends reported, “The prosecutors demanded Twitter give them both Harris’s email address, as well as all his tweets during a three-month period surrounding his arrest — including deleted tweets.”
Twitter’s terms of service state that its users “retain [their] rights to any Content [they] submit, post or display on or through” Twitter. Harris’ own motion to quash the order was denied because, according to Judge Scarriano, tweets do not belong to the person who posted them. He stated: “Twitter’s license to use the defendant’s Tweets means that the Tweets the defendant posted were not his.” People v. Harris, Case No. 2011NY080152, 2012 WL 1381238 (N.Y Crim Ct. Apr. 20, 2012)
Why should professional service firms care about the outcome here? Law enforcement bodies have been increasingly trying to go round the back door when a user refuses to turn over information – i.e., they look to the provider to supply it. ACLU attorney Aden Fine states: “Law enforcement agencies—both the federal government and state and city entities—are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet.” As more and more communication happens online, look for this to happen with greater frequency.
Twitter is thus far the exception to the number of major online content sites that have quickly folded when presented with a court order to turn over data. Yahoo, Facebook and Google have all handed over data to the courts, despite the fact that their user agreements, like Twitter’s, state published content belongs to the user and not to them.
So don’t rely on the small print in these contracts to protect your firm’s online content. Consider carefully what you post: courts may not only want to get their hands on it; there’s a good chance they’ll actually get it.
Round one to Twitter.
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