Twitter Inc. on Friday turned over an Occupy Wall Street protester’s posts under seal, extending a seven-month fight over whether the company or its users is responsible for Twitter posts.
The company had to turn over information about Malcolm Harris’s Twitter posts by Friday or face a fine and be found in contempt of court, New York Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. had ordered. The compromise, in which Twitter turned over the information in a sealed white envelope, extends a seven-month fight against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s subpoena for Harris’s posts. Twitter seeks a higher court finding that its users, and not the company, are responsible for their posts.
“Twitter’s position, and ours, is that people who own the accounts should be the ones who are able to object,” Martin Stolar, a lawyer for Harris, said after the ruling.
Sciarrino had asked Twitter to show why it wasn’t in contempt of court after refusing to produce information about the posts by Harris, who was arrested Oct. 1 with about 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Sciarrino ruled June 30 that Twitter must turn over Harris’s Twitter posts from Sept. 15 to Dec. 30 of last year and user information linked to his “@destructuremal” account. Twitter asked for a stay that would block enforcement of the order while it appealed Sciarrino’s decision.
That request was denied Sept. 7, according to court records.
Stolar told Sciarrino today that a judge hearing a separate suit by Harris will decide on a request to stay his June 30 ruling at a Sept. 21 hearing. That lawsuit, in state Supreme Court, targets Sciarrino, saying his ruling is inappropriate. A ruling in Harris’s favor there may aid Twitter in its own appeal of Sciarrino’s ruling to the Appellate Term.
Sciarrino rejected a request today by Terryl L. Brown, a lawyer for Twitter, to stay his own June 30 order, and said he would instead keep the information sealed until the Sept. 21 ruling, therefore preserving the company’s rights.
Today’s order “is not considered to be a waiver of Twitter’s right to appeal,” Sciarrino said in court.
Brown had argued that Twitter “is being given an unfair Hobson’s choice” of waiving its right to appeal or be held in contempt of court.
The Harris case will determine whether Twitter faces the burden of responding to subpoenas for its users, the San Francisco-based company has said. The outcome is significant throughout the U.S. as law enforcement becomes more aggressive in seeking information about what people do and say on the Internet, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a May 31 court filing.
That issue will be decided by the results of Harris’s lawsuit against Sciarrino and Twitter’s appeal, Stolar said.
Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for Vance, declined to comment. Carolyn Penner, a spokeswoman for Twitter, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Twitter provides real-time messaging and allows users to make posts that are broadcast to people who sign up to follow them. Some of Harris’s posts are no longer available on his Twitter account, and Twitter only keeps as many as 3,200 posts.
“I may have deleted some Tweets after a three-month period,” Harris, 23, said after today’s hearing, adding that he wanted to keep his most important ones online if he ran over the capacity.
Vance’s office said it seeks only subscriber information linking Harris to the account at issue, and tweets that were already publicly disseminated. Twitter has said that if the information was public, Vance’s office wouldn’t have to subpoena it. Stolar has said that the information sought includes IP addresses.
Harris said in court papers that police engaged in misconduct by escorting protesters onto the bridge and misleading them to believe that crossing the bridge was authorized.
“The tweets are thought to contain admissions that Harris’s violation of New York Law was intentional and/or would undermine” his potential trial defense, prosecutors said in a court filing.
The case is People of the State of New York v. Harris, 11-80152, New York Criminal Court (Manhattan).