Legal Eagles

Twitter Apparently Not Handing Over Jack Without A Search Warrant

Company moves to block subpoena of user's tweets.
twitter republic Twitter Apparently Not Handing Over Jack Without A Search Warrant

(Photo: Scott Beale, Laughing Squid)

When last we checked in with the legal struggle over Occupy Wall Street and Twitter accounts, it didn’t look great for anyone looking to keep their DMs out of court. At issue: The state wants data associated with a protestor charged with disorderly conduct. A judge ruled the defense can’t fight a subpoena, because–as the legal thinking went–the information on Twitter belongs to the company, not to the individual user. And Twitter’s policies seem to suggest they’ll hand material over in the event of a subpoena.

But it appears it won’t be quite that simple for the DA’s office. Rather than complying with the order, Twitter just filed a motion to quash it.

We reached out to Twitter for comment and received a statement from Legal Counsel Ben Lee: “As we said in our brief, “Twitter’s Terms of Service make absolutely clear that its users *own* their content.” Our filing with the court reaffirms our steadfast commitment to defending those rights for our users.”

The motion identifies several problems with the order, starting with the idea users don’t own their tweets. Apparently, according to the company’s terms of service, users do retain rights to the content posted on the site, and the document “expressly permits users to challenge demands for their account records.” The motion also alleges that the order for Twitter to produce “basic user information” compels the company to violate the Fourth Amendment (that would be the one regarding search and seizure), as well as the Stored Communications Act.

The document concludes that, “Twitter respectfully requests that the Court quash the Order and direct the District Attorney to request a search warrant for the desired records.”

Translation: Come at me, bro.

The ACLU’s blog explains the implications:

This is a big deal. 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. And while the individual Internet users can try to defend their rights in the rare circumstances in which they find out about the requests before their information is turned over, that may not be enough.

For the curious and/or legally inclined, the motion is here.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com