Civil liberties organizations and Internet groups are expressing concern that the U.S. government is subpoenaing Twitter users having to do with Occupy events.
This isn't the first time it's happened -- Twitter had also been subpoeaned around the Wikileaks case -- but that one was arguably about national security.
Jeffrey Rae was notified by Twitter on March 10 that on March 8, his Twitter records between September 15, 2011 and October 31, 2011, had been subpoenaed by the state of New York. This was after Malcolm Harris revealed in February that his Tweets between September 1 and late October had also been subpoenaed, and Rae's documents allude to the accounts of four other people being subpoenaed.
"Local police in Boston subpoenaed two accounts (including @occupyboston) and — bizarrely — two hashtags. In Plano, Texas, authorities subpoenaed the WordPress blog records of Occupy Plano," Harris wrote. "What we can see across the country is the modest beginning of a national move toward the use of activists’ legal electronic communications against them."
For their part, prosecutors told CBS News that they want Harris' public tweets, not private messages sent on Twitter, to contradict Harris' assertion that he thought demonstrators had permission to march on the bridge road.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union helped defend the three Wikileaks people, noting, among other things, that the people had found out that their records were being requested only because Twitter told them. According to Harris, it was suggested to Twitter that it not reveal the informat to him, though the letter to Twitter about Rae makes it clear that Twitter was expected to tell him. In addition, the government did not have to get a warrant for the information about the three Wikilieaks people, with the judge ruling that they had a lessened expectation of privacy due to Twitter's terms of service.
The EFF and ACLU are also helping defend Occupy people and Anonymous from Twitter subpoenas. " Government fishing expeditions like this raise serious First Amendment concerns," wrote the EFF, noting that, since Harris' Tweets are public, the government may actually be attempting to get the IP addresses to draw a map of his locations over time.
Ironically, Harris adds, the U.S. State Department praised Iranian students in 2009 for using Twitter to protest against *their* government.
"The biggest danger that comes from this subpoena isn’t that it’ll help convict me — I don’t think a judge will have any trouble understanding what happened on the bridge — but that it will produce a chilling effect and discourage people from using Twitter while protesting," Harris continues. "It’s a win-win for prosecutors: Either they use Twitter archives to build cases against demonstrators, or they scare us away from using the platform."