Twitter – The Online Open Window

I posted back in April about a dispute in New York concerning the prosecution of an Occupy Wall Street participant. The dispute arose when the prosecutor issued a subpoena to Twitter in an effort to get some of the occupier’s tweets that the prosecutor believes would help establish his guilt. Twitter tried to stay out of the fight, hoping that the occupier would contest the issue. The occupier tried, but the court found that he lacked standing to contest the subpoena that wasn’t issued to him, but rather to Twitter. So Twitter filed a motion to quash the subpoena. Long story short, the court denied the motion to quash. The decision is well written and to the point. The court focused on whether a Twitter user has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his tweets. Given the public nature of Twitter, the court found that there was no expectation of privacy. And because there’s not, Twitter has to turn over the information. The court posed the scenario where a person calls out of an open window to a person below – “I’m sorry I hit you, please come upstairs.” As the court notes, the prosecutor could certainly ask passers by to testify about what they heard. In the court’s view, “today the street is an online, information superhighway, and the witnesses can be the third party providers like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or the next hot social media application.” The court also speculated that the founding fathers would have been big Twitter users. But you can read that part.