US court orders Twitter to hand over tweets of Occupy protestor

Who owns your Tweets? Twitter or you, the user? It’s a debate that will certainly rear its head again after a US court demanded the social network handed over the tweets of arrested Occupy protestor Malcolm Harris - forcing a contradiction of the site’s own terms of service that say tweets belong to the user, not them.

Harris, who is a senior editor at US site The New Inquiry, was one of 700 Occupy Wall Street demonstrators arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on 1 October last year. Harris claims he and others thought they had permission from the police to demonstrate at the location, but prosecutors claim Harris was aware of police instructions to the contrary, ordering the group not to block the traffic.

Twitter gets hauled into the equation as the accusers want to see tweets Harris broadcasted between 15 September and 31 December, believing the evidence will help prove his deliberate misconduct on the day of his arrest.

During earlier hearings, Twitter’s legal representative Ben Lee said, "Twitter's terms of service make absolutely clear that its users 'own' their own content. Our filing with the court reaffirms our steadfast commitment to defending those rights for our users." The site argues that under the Stored Communications Act, users can contest government requests to access information they have posted.

But judge Matthew Sciarrino has taken a different view, and said in his ruling, "If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. There is no proprietary interest in your tweets, which you have now gifted to the world. Today, the street is an online, information superhighway, and the witnesses can be the third party providers like Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, Pinterest, or the next hot social media application."

On a different account to the one in question, Harris responded to tweets asking if Twitter would appeal the verdict by saying “I can’t imagine they won’t.” Harris is due to face trial in December.

Image credit: Reuters