/// Twitter’s Legal Blow in Occupy Case Will Make a Lot of Companies Nervous

September 14, 2012  |  All Things Digital


After nearly a year of fighting the good fight, Twitter was dealt another setback in its ongoing battle with a New York State court on Friday, handing over information on one of its users who was allegedly involved in Occupy Wall Street protests last October. It’s a tough blow for Twitter, a company known for its hard-line stance on protecting the speech-related rights of its users. But it could have larger implications for the future of companies that hold sensitive user information and may be forced to hand over said information in the future. “Many companies are watching this case closely, seeing how it plays out,” said Marcia Hoffman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an interview. “Because they may find themselves in the same spot.” It began with the state of New York vs. Malcolm Harris , a senior editor at the online publication the New Inquiry, who was arrested during an incident on the Brooklyn Bridge in conjunction with last year’s OWS protests. The state requested that Twitter hand over “any and all user information” on Harris, who used the microblogging service in conjunction with his protesting activities last year. The state subpoenaed Twitter directly for Harris’s information, claiming that Harris lacked sufficient standing to challenge the request for his information on his own behalf. That put the onus on Twitter to hand over the information. In a nutshell, that’s not practical for Twitter in the long run. Going to court every single time a government agency requests a user’s information would be arduous, costly and time-consuming, requiring the company to put much more resources and manpower into its legal department (or hire pricey outside counsel). Now extrapolate that scenario out to the myriad companies online that collect user information, including users’ email address, IP address, location information and other sensitive data. If required by a court in subsequent similar cases to hand over that data, any number of companies could end up in the same awkward situation that Twitter found itself in. “Twitter should continue to be applauded for standing up for its users, but companies like Twitter shouldn’t be forced to do that,” said Aden Fine, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, in an interview. “When the government request implicates an individual’s constitutional rights, they should be able to stand up for themselves.” In the end, the New York DA and the judge used a legal maneuver to put pressure on Twitter, threatening to hold the company in contempt of court and levy steep fines if it didn’t hand over the data. What’s more, in order to figure out the amount of the fines, Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino requested Twitter hand over its financial earnings information over the past two quarters. And making public its highly sensitive financial data is something absolutely no private company, especially one as closely scrutinized as the massively popular Twitter, wants to do

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Twitter’s Legal Blow in Occupy Case Will Make a Lot of Companies Nervous


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