Law Enforcement Access to Social Network Postings

Reply Thu 5 Jul, 2012 06:33 am
Twitter told to give up Occupy protester’s tweets
(Associated Press Wire Report, July 3, 2012)

NEW YORK — Twitter must give a court about three months’ worth of an Occupy Wall Street protester’s tweets, a judge said in a ruling released yesterday. The company had fought prosecutors’ demand for the messages.

Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. rebuffed one of Twitter Inc.’s central arguments, which concerned who has rights to contest law enforcement demands for content posted on its site. But the judge said the company was right on a separate point that could require prosecutors to take further steps if they want to see one particular day of Malcolm Harris’ tweets and his user information.

Sciarrino also decided that he would review all the material he ordered turned over and would provide “relevant portions” to prosecutors.

The case began as one of hundreds of disorderly conduct prosecutions stemming from an Oct. 1 Occupy march on the Brooklyn Bridge, but it has evolved into a closely watched legal tussle over law enforcement agencies’ access to material posted on social networks.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office said Harris’ messages could show whether he was aware of police orders that he is charged with disregarding. Twitter, meanwhile, said the case could put it in the unwanted position of having to take on legal fights that users could otherwise conduct on their own.

The DA’s office said it was pleased with the ruling, which came after the judge turned down Harris’ own request earlier this year to block prosecutors from subpoenaing his tweets and user information from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31.

“We look forward to Twitter’s complying and to moving forward with the trial,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel R. Alonso said in a statement.

Twitter called the ruling disappointing and said it was considering its next move. “We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights,” the company said in a statement.

Harris’ lawyer, Martin Stolar, said he was studying the ruling to determine how to respond.

Harris was among more than 700 people arrested in the Brooklyn Bridge march. Police said demonstrators ignored warnings to stay on a pedestrian path and went onto the roadway. Harris, an editor for an online culture magazine, and others say they thought they had police permission to go on the roadway.

He challenged the subpoena for his tweets, saying prosecutors’ bid for user information, alongside the messages, breached privacy and free-association rights. The data could give prosecutors a picture of his followers, their interactions through replies and retweets, and his location at various points, Stolar said.

Prosecutors said the tweets might contradict Harris’ claim that he thought protesters were allowed on the roadway. And they said he couldn’t invoke privacy rights for messages he sent very publicly, though some stopped being visible when newer ones crowded them out.

Sciarrino ruled in April that Harris didn’t have a proprietary interest in his tweets and so couldn’t challenge the subpoena, which was issued to Twitter.

Then San Francisco-based Twitter went to court on Harris’ behalf, saying he had every right to fight the subpoena. Its user agreements say that users own content they post and can challenge demands for their records, and it would be “a new and overwhelming burden” for Twitter to have to champion such causes for them, the company argued in a court filing.

The judge said the company’s argument didn’t overcome his view that privacy protections don’t apply to Harris’ tweets.

“If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy,” wrote the social media-savvy Sciarrino, who laced his previous ruling with the hashtag marks used to mark keywords in tweets.

Twitter prevailed on another argument: that some of the tweets shouldn’t be turned over because a federal law requires a court-approved search warrant, not just a subpoena issued by prosecutors, for stored electronic communications that are less than 180 days old.

Sciarrino found that law did apply — but only to Harris’ tweets and information for Dec. 31, since the rest were more than 180 days old by June 30, the date of the ruling. It was released yesterday.

Prosecutors’ bid for the tweets had spurred concern among electronic-privacy and civil-liberties advocates, and some cheered Twitter’s decision to take up the fight at a time when authorities increasingly seek to mine social networks for information.

Yesterday’s ruling “continued to fail to grapple with one of the key issues underlying this case: do individuals give up their ability to go to court to try to protect their free speech and privacy rights when they use the Internet? … The answer has to be no,” said Aden Fine, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing Twitter’s position.

Harris’ case is set for trial in December.
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Reply Fri 6 Jul, 2012 05:24 am
Twitter data raise question: Who's following you? Maybe police
(Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2012)

Everything is evidence. You might want to remember that the next time you log on.

According to new data released by Twitter on Monday, American police are leading the charge to get users’ info from the popular San Francisco-based microblogging service. Overall, from Jan. 1 through June, the company received 849 law enforcement requests for individual users’ information, granting 63% of those requests.

American law enforcement accounted for 80% of those information requests compared to other nations, just as Americans are thought to make up a dominant share of the service’s users. U.S. officials made 679 requests, getting what they wanted 75% of the time.

What’s more, the company reported, “We’ve received more government requests in the first half of 2012, as outlined in this initial dataset, than in the entirety of 2011.”

The widespread data generated by social media use represents one of the next frontiers of privacy’s collision with police surveillance. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security monitors public posts on social media for potential threats; on Monday, the Manhattan district attorney’s office won a court ruling forcing Twitter to turn over three months’ worth of tweets for an Occupy Wall Street protester charged with disorderly conduct.

The numbers released by Twitter on Monday show requests for “user information.” According to the company’s privacy policy, that can include your location, IP addresses, search terms, pages visited and also data from when you visit third-party websites with Twitter buttons on them — which would seem to include the one you’re reading right now.

Some of this data is deleted after 18 months, according to the company’s privacy disclosure, if not sooner. The company accepts requests from law enforcement to preserve information for longer periods of time.

Twitter is one of the more transparent social-media sites out there, with a standing policy to notify users of requests for their information, unless barred by a statute or a court order; in the case of the Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York, prosecutors had told the company not to tell the protester they were requesting his information. Twitter ignored this directive and told the protester anyway; he’s been fighting the subpoena ever since.

Twitter’s openness policies contrast a bit with Facebook’s, which released its law-enforcement guidelines only after Anonymous Antisec hackers pried them out of the company’s fingers illegally. Facebook later posted its policy online as Twitter has done, but its policies on notifying users are noticeably less firm.

In May, according to the Associated Press, Facebook cooperated with Pakistani authorities trying to block users participating in an inflammatory competition to post pictures of the prophet Muhammad, which is forbidden under Islamic law; Twitter, however, refused to cooperate and saw its services briefly blocked in Pakistan as a result.

According to the data released Monday, Twitter received six requests from foreign governments and courts in France, Greece, Pakistan, Turkey and the United Kingdom over the past six months and complied with none of them.

The company also received 3,378 copyright takedown requests in that time span and complied with 38% of them, removing 5,275 tweets.
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Reply Fri 6 Jul, 2012 05:30 am
I find the expectations of privacy to be really skewed - and I mean by users, not necessarily by law enforcement. There seems to be a thought that, "I tweeted or posted __, and I sent it to all my friends and my neighbor's dog, etc. but now you can't discover it and use it in prosecution against me because it's private." Yeah, right, and I have a bridge to sell you.

This is a very confessional culture we are becoming, and then we turn around and want to reel it in, and put that horse back in the barn. Well, I got news for folks. The horse has escaped and is in the next county already.
Reply Fri 6 Jul, 2012 06:18 am
From the data released by Twitter, it seems that they are getting more and more requests from law enforcement. In the Occupy Wall Street decision, the judge stated it is not reasonable to expect privacy -- posting something on social media is like "shouting it at the top of your lungs."
Reply Fri 6 Jul, 2012 06:29 am
Yep, and users need to understand this and not be coy about, well, I wanted everyone to love and follow me but when it comes to the cops suddenly it's all private. Life does not work that way and online life shouldn't, either.
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Reply Fri 6 Jul, 2012 09:27 am
“If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. . .”

A better analogy would be that tweeting is like dumping signed handbills all over the world than screaming out the window. You've created a physical artifact left on tweeter's servers by tweeting. In verbal speech you've created sound waves that dissipate and leave no discernible record. All that would be left of that speech would be memories, unless it was recorded with audio equipment. The onus would be on the prosecution to provide witnesses to testify or recordings of that speech. I don't know how written documents are protected under the privacy protection laws.

In regard to what Harris thought about whether he had permission to go on the Brooklyn Bridge roadway, what difference does it make what he thought he knew? Ignorance of the law or does not preclude one from following the law. I would think that the DA would only have to show that the police made it known reasonably publicly that demonstrators were to stay on a pedestrian path and not go onto the roadway.
Reply Fri 6 Jul, 2012 01:57 pm
It seems like you're making a slander vs. libel type of analogy, e. g. libel is easier to prove because it's recorded and, therefore, there is independent proof of its existence and its composition, whereas slander is dependent upon people's memories of what was said.
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