activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: malcolm harris

san francisco district attorney’s office agrees to withdraw twitter subpoenas

Last month, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office issued subpoenas to Twitter for tweets, photos, and other information related to the accounts of two activists, Lauren Smith and Robert Donohoe. The District Attorney’s office previously charged Smith and Donohoe with offenses stemming from a Columbus Day demonstration last year. After the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a brief in support of the activists’ motion to quash the subpoenas, the District Attorney’s office agreed to withdraw them.

Unfortunately, authorities are increasingly attempting to obtain account information from Twitter. In the case of Malcolm Harris, for example, prosecutors obtained damning tweets related to an Occupy march on the Brooklyn Bridge in October 2011. According to yesterday’s article by ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye,

In a disturbing trend that can have a chilling effect on free speech, law enforcement agencies around the country are seeking wide-ranging information about the social networking activity of political activists. … A district attorney’s decision to prosecute is not an invitation for the government to engage in intrusive fishing expeditions into a criminal defendant’s beliefs and interests, let alone the beliefs and interests of third parties… By issuing the subpoenas, the San Francisco DA sent an intimidating message to protesters everywhere.

prosecutors in brooklyn bridge case obtained damning account information from twitter

Yesterday Malcolm Harris, one of approximately 700 people arrested during an Occupy march on the Brooklyn Bridge in October 2011, pled guilty to disorderly conduct. Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. obtained Harris’s Twitter posts in September, because the District Attorney’s office argued that the tweets could show whether Harris knew about police orders he allegedly ignored. Judge Sciarrino reviewed the posts and turned over a few pages – the portions relevant to the disorderly conduct prosecution – to the District Attorney’s office.

According to today’s New York Times article, the prosecutors were right:

“They tried to stop us, absolutely did not want us on the motorway,” the writer, Malcolm Harris, posted during the march on Oct. 1, 2011, according to passages read by a prosecutor in court. “They tried to block and threaten arrest. We were too many and too loud. They backed up until they could put up barricades.”

The approximately 700 arrests are also the subject of a class action lawsuit still pending against the police.

authorities increasingly attempt to obtain account information from twitter

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. decided on Monday that Twitter must turn over an Occupy Wall Street protester’s tweets from a period of roughly three months. Judge Sciarrino will review the tweets and provide those portions that are relevant to a disorderly conduct prosecution to the District Attorney’s office. The prosecution resulted from an Occupy march on the Brooklyn Bridge last October.

Twitter righteously fought the DA’s office’s demand for the tweets. Yet prosecutors argued that the tweets could show whether the protester, online magazine editor Malcolm Harris, knew about police orders he allegedly ignored. The arrest was one of approximately 700 on October 1, 2011, which are the subject of a class action lawsuit still pending against the police.

Also on Monday, Twitter released its first Transparency Report, which listed the U.S. government as having requested user account information 679 times since January 1, more than in all of 2011. Twitter produced some or all of the requested information three-quarters of the time. “We notify affected users of requests for their account info,” the report says, “unless we’re prohibited by law.”