Twitter says users' content is their property and courts can't get access without a search warrant.
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Twitter says users' content is their property and courts can't get access without a search warrant.

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Twitter fights court order to hand over user's data

District attorney wants information on a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement

Site says the court would need a search warrant, that users own their content

ACLU calls Twitter's move to fight it "a big deal"

CNN —  

Twitter, which has a history of complying with court requests for users’ data, appears to be drawing a line in the sand.

The company filed a motion in a New York State court on Monday to quash a court order that would force it to hand over data pertaining to a user involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement, according to a blog post from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Malcom Harris, the user in question, is being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan for disorderly conduct during the Occupy movement’s march across the Brooklyn Bridge last year. The prosecution is asking Twitter for Harris’s email address and all his tweets over a three-month period.

Twitter, however, countered that the court would need a search warrant to get that information. It pointed to a recent Supreme Court decision which found that attaching a GPS device is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment, which prevents unreasonable searches and seizures.

“If the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement applies merely to surveillance of one’s location in public areas for 28 days, it also applies to the District Attorney’s effort to force Twitter to produce over three months worth of a citizen’s substantive communications, regardless of whether the government alleges those communications are public or private,” wrote Twitter in its motion.

Twitter also suggested that Harris owns his own tweets and could therefore file a motion to quash on his own, despite the prosecution’s assertion of the opposite.

The ACLU is calling Twitter’s move a “big deal.”

“If Internet users cannot protect their own constitutional rights, the only hope is that Internet companies do so,” wrote Aden Fine, senior staff attorney at the ACLU. “That is why it is so important to encourage those companies that we all increasingly rely on to do what they can to protect their customers’ free speech and privacy rights.”

Harris, who tweets under the handle @BigMeanInternet, welcomed the news becoming public.

“@BigMeanInternet : Oh sweet, it’s public. Twitter motioned to quash my subpoena all on their own, saying that I do retain rights to my content.”

He also expressed gratitude toward Twitter for defending his personal information.

“Twitter’s Terms of Service make absolutely clear that its users own their content,” a spokesperson from Twitter told Mashable. “Our filing with the court reaffirms our steadfast commitment to defending those rights for our users.”

Earlier this year, Twitter gave the Boston Police Department one users’ data. Another user subpoenaed by law enforcement, Jeff Rae, told Mashable that he would be filing his own motion last March.

Rae called Twitter’s recent decision “excellent.”

“I think that this goes to show that Twitter realizes what allowing the state to subpoena accounts can do to their credibility to social and political movements,” Rae told Mashable via email. “Twitter has one of the better user policies out there (they actually notify their users of subpoenas), and to see them standing up to fight subpoenas like this is promising.”

Do you think Twitter should stand up to court orders such as these? Sound off in the comments below.