Twitter has refused to hand over three months of tweets by a user being prosecuted for his part in the Occupy Wall Street protests, arguing the service’s content belongs to its members and not the company.
Malcolm Harris was arrested on Brooklyn Bridge last October and charged with disorderly conduct for his participation in an Occupy Wall Street march. Specifically he, and 700 others, were arrested after they started marching onto the road section of the Brooklyn Bridge.
In January, New York prosecutors issued a subpoena to Twitter requesting three months worth of Harris’s tweets, some extra user information and his email address.
It is believed that prosecutors wish to access Harris’s tweets as they think they will contradict his defence which states that the police allowed protestors to walk on the road.
Twitter allows users access to their own tweets and interactions from the last seven days only.
Twitter moved to quash the court order in a motion filed on Monday – saying its terms of service “make absolutely clear that its users own their content", giving tweeters the right to try and quash court orders of this nature themselves.
Prior to Twitter’s 10-page memo, a US judge had ruled that Harris did not have the legal right to challenge the court’s request for his Twitter history, as Twitter owned the rights to his tweets.
Twitter’s response says: “[Twitter’s]Terms of service expressly state: 'You retain your rights to any content you submit, post or display on or through the services'.”
Furthermore, Ben Lee, legal counsel for Twitter, said in a statement: “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."
Last October, Dick Costolo, chief executive of Twitter, said that the company would always try and warn any users it received Government requests about so that the tweeters had a chance to fight such an order.
However, he said these government orders for user information were “troubling” and tough to handle, as one of the conditions is that the request remains secret.
Costolo cited the case in January 2011 where the US Government ordered Twitter to disclose the IP addresses and user information about four accounts linked to the Wikileaks affair.
“We went back of our own accord and argued for the right to let those four people know that their information was being requested so that they could fight it,” he explained.
“We provided these users with the ability to fight this request and I think a bunch of them are still doing so…That’s how we will behave in those cases where we can.”
In the Harris case, Twitter also puts forward two additional arguments as to why the court order should be thrown out. Firstly, the company has argued that the subpoena forces Twitter to violate federal law; specifically the fourth amendment which requires there to be a search warrant carried out before businesses divulge users’ communications.
And secondly, Twitter has argued that the order breaks the US Uniform Act, which asks that all prosecutors present appropriate certification to a California court before forcing a Californian company to provide any documentation.