Facing Fines for Contempt, Twitter Produces Defendant’s Tweets

People v. Harris, No. 2011NY080152 (N.Y. Crim. Ct. 2012)

As was previously discussed on this blog (here, here, and here), Twitter, Inc. was recently ordered by New York Judge Matthew Sciarrino to produce both “content” and “non-content” information (including the text of Tweets) associated with the account of criminal defendant Malcolm Harris.  Mr. Harris and others were arrested during an “Occupy Wall Street” protest after marching onto the Brooklyn Bridge.  Thereafter, the District Attorney sent a subpoena to Twitter seeking Mr. Harris’ user information and Tweets in an apparent effort to disprove his claims that he and other protesters were led onto the roadway by the police.  Initially, Mr. Harris sought to quash the subpoena, but his motion was denied by the court for lack of standing—the court found that he had no proprietary interest in the information sought and that his claimed privacy interest was “understandable” but “without merit.”  Twitter then sought to quash the subpoena itself, but that motion was also denied.  Twitter had argued that Mr. Harris (like all Twitter users) had standing to quash the subpoena and that the court’s decision to deny that standing placed an undue burden on Twitter where it would be forced to either respond to all subpoenas or to vindicate its users’ rights by moving to quash.

Last week, according to many reports (including a Reuters article linked hereto), despite a pending appeal, Twitter was ordered to produce the requested information or face fines for contempt of court.  On Friday September 14, Twitter produced the requested information, which will remain sealed for now, pending a determination on Mr. Harris’ request for a stay.

While Twitter had expressed concern that its production would essentially render its appeal moot, Judge Sciarrino has been widely quoted as urging the appellate court to nonetheless take up this important issue and decide the case on the merits, characterizing this issue as “more important … than maybe the trial itself.” 

To read more, click here and be taken to the above noted Reuters article, written by Joseph Ax.

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