Privacy Police

Twitter Refuses NYPD Request for Info on User Threatening to Shoot Up Midtown Theater

Oh good, this theater is just down the street from Betabeat.
 Twitter Refuses NYPD Request for Info on User Threatening to Shoot Up Midtown Theater

(Photo: Scott Beale, Laughing Squid)

When a NYPD request for information is about a fairly minor legal issue like a disorderly conduct arrest during a massive protest, it seems easy to side with the privacy protectors in defense of Twitter’s actions to refuse to cough up that info. But what if the NYPD requests information for a user reportedly threatening to stage a massacre in a Broadway theater showing a Mike Tyson play? That makes things a little dicier, huh?

The New York Post reports that the NYPD sent Twitter an emergency request for user data on Friday after a Twitter user tweeted, “This s–t ain’t no joke yo — I’m serious, people are gonna die like aurora.” The user was reportedly planning a massacre at the Midtown showing of the play Undisputed Truth, starring Mike Tyson.

According to the Post, Twitter denied the NYPD’s request, and sent an email that read, “We appreciate the timeliness and sensitivity of this matter, and have reviewed the reported Twitter account.” The NYPD was–of course–furious, and sent a handful of cops to cover the theater until they track down the user. They’ve also filed a subpoena to force Twitter to hand over the information.

The incident sheds some light on the complicated nature of data requests for social networks. Should the chance to head off potential violence supersede privacy issues? Where do you draw the line? In the brave new world of the Internet, even big companies like Twitter don’t seem to have it figured out just yet.

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