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.