“If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.” Those were the words of New York Supreme Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino after he denied a motion to quash a subpoena requesting the content and user information of Malcolm Harris’ twitter account.
Malcolm Harris, an Occupy Wall Street protester charged last October, was one of 732 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge and now faces up to 15 days in jail for disorderly conduct. Reports about what actually happened that day are conflicting. Some assert that police officers led marchers to believe that they could walk on the vehicular route, while others argue that the protesters were led intentionally by organizers to block traffic.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office claims that Harris’ Twitter messages from that day – now deleted from his deactivated account-reveal the truth. They subpoenaed Twitter demanding Harris’ old October 1st tweets.
Twitter, in an attempt to protect user information, challenged the subpoena submitting a motion to quash it. The ACLU drafted an amicus brief in support of Twitter’s position and asserted “disclosure of an individual’s location when saying something, how long it takes to say something or what tools they choose to use for communication are private, intimate details about individuals’ communications and communication habits. None of this information is the government’s business, and the D.A. cannot simply obtain it without first satisfying constitutional scrutiny.”
However Judge Sciarrino did not agree with either school of thought and rejected the constitutional claims. As one of the first judges to rule on the issue, Sciarrino stated that:
“There is no proprietary interest in your tweets, which you have now gifted to the world. This is not the same as a private email, a private direct message, a private chat, or any of the other readily available ways to have a private conversation via the internet that now exist. Those private dialogues would require a warrant based on probable cause in order to access the relevant information.”
What does this ruling mean for a community of Tweeters? At least for now, if you tweet something, you can’t consider it private speech even if you later delete it.