A quick tweet can help amass hundreds of followers to take action, whether it be to grab some Snapples and head to the park, or to grab a pen and draft a subpoena for three months worth of a Snapple-drinking protester’s tweets. While the former has been known for months as “Occupy Wall Street,” its legal counterpart could easily be dubbed “Occupy Court Street.”
Fox News just reported that the New York City police are investigating an Occupy Wall Street’s Twitter posts about killing police officers. The post that sparked the investigation said, “[w]e won’t make a difference if we don’t kill a cop or 2.” While the user has not been identified, the user posted this comment under the Twitter account “Smackema1.” NYC police are seeking a subpoena to Twitter to uncover the user’s identity. Read more on this story at http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/03/19/new-york-police-probe-kill-cop-tweet-linked-to-occupy-wall-street-protests.
The real question is how Twitter will react. In another case, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office sought a subpoena for tweets from Occupy Wall Street protester Malcolm Harris, who was charged with disorderly conduct related to the Occupy Wall Street protest. Harris described the subpoena as “a phishing scam, but it’s from the prosecutors.”
The information the Occupy Wall Street subpoenas request is generally the same: they seek the user’s name, address, records of session times, the length of those sessions, the types of devices used to access Twitter, and any IP addresses from which the user connected. As reported by Reuters, Twitter’s policy when it receives a subpoena for a user’s information is to notify users of the request, unless prior notification is illegal. See http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/01/us-protests-twitter-newyork-idUSTRE81003H20120201
For the legal eagles out there who were wondering why the Manhattan District Attorney has used subpoenas rather than warrants to obtain the information, certain federal laws allow police and/or prosecutors to obtain information from social media and telecommunications companies for their users without a warrant. Some regular Coollaw blog readers may remember that the Second District Court of Appeals recently upheld a decision allowing police to use telephone records against a cell phone user that the police obtained by subpoenaing the cell phone provider. See “Who You Gonna Call? Your cell phone provider knows…,” posted February 7, 2012.
Occupy Court Street is not limited to Occupy Wall Street protesters. In November 2011, U.S. Federal Court in Virginia ordered Twitter to grant the Justice Department access to non-public account information for three individuals believed to be affiliated with or supporting WikiLeaks.
Much like Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Court Street has its detractors. Some privacy commentators have voiced concerns about police and prosecutors having the power to gather communications data so easily. Despite that, so far, Occupy Court Street appears to be here to stay.