All Your Tweets Are Belong to Us

New York Judge Overrules Twitter: Tweets Broadcast to the Public ‘Belong to the Public’

Wonder what the ACLU will have to say about this.
 New York Judge Overrules Twitter: Tweets Broadcast to the Public Belong to the Public

(Photo: Scott Beale, Laughing Squid)

Things are not looking very good for Malcolm Harris, the Occupy Wall Street protestor who was arrested for disorderly conduct for taking place in the 2011 protest march across the Brooklyn Bridge. Back in April, a Judge ruled that your tweets are not your own, striking down a motion from Mr. Harris’s lawyer to block the courts from subpoenaing his tweets.

Twitter stood up for Mr. Harris in May, protesting the subpoena on several grounds, including the fact that the company’s terms of service explicitly state that all users own their content. Twitter’s Legal counsel, Ben Lee, told Betabeat, “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.”

Unfortunately for Twitter, the company’s motion was overturned today by Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr., who demanded that Twitter furnish Mr. Harris’s tweets. “While noting that laws regarding social media are evolving, [the judge] held that public speech, regardless of the forum, does not enjoy the protections of private speech,” reports the New York Times.

In this ruling, Judge Sciarrino wrote:

The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts. What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.

Based on that reasoning, it seems like the court will only be soliciting Mr. Harris’s public tweets and not his DMs or private account information. Still, definitely not a good day for Internet privacy advocates.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel R. Alonso provided Betabeat with the following statement: “We are pleased that the court has ruled for a second time that the Tweets at issue must be turned over. We look forward to Twitter’s complying and to moving forward with the trial.”

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com