/// Gone Fishin’: District Attorneys Overreach in Twitter Data Requests

January 3, 2013  |  All Things Digital


Technology outpaces the law. And with every major tech sea change, the law scrambles to keep up. And that’s the point at which lawyers often reach for far more than they should. Case in point: Twitter’s rise to ubiquity over the past six years. The company claims to be the medium for worldwide conversation (the “global town square” is Twitter’s preferred sound bite of choice of late). And politically, the act of group public protest is perhaps the perfect example of Twitter’s usefulness — disparate folks who wouldn’t otherwise know each other can communicate and congregate, organize and act. Take the Occupy movement , for example. Arrests made in major protests like Occupy that are aided by Twitter use are exactly where district attorneys move in. Thus far, D.A.s in New York, Boston and San Francisco have brought subpoenas for Twitter user data in civil cases against Occupy protesters, asking for information such as private messages between users, tweets from “protected” accounts, all Twitter information from an extended period of time, and in the case of the San Francisco D.A., even data from others in conversation with the targeted user. To use a Bush-ism, this is strategery at its finest. There’s no firm precedent in the law for going after Twitter data, and the more information attorneys can get their hands on initially, the more those cases can help them do so in the future. Think of the rise of the cellular phone and government requests for GPS data, e-mail as the default form of correspondence, or cloud-stored data and the right to privacy users have around it.

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Gone Fishin’: District Attorneys Overreach in Twitter Data Requests


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