Twitter has been subpoenaed by the city of New York as a witness in a criminal case against an Occupy Wall Street activist.
The next time you’re thinking about using Twitter to organize anything more subversive than a strawberry social, you might want to think about the case of young Malcolm Harris, AKA @destructuremal, a lad from New York City who apparently took part in the recent Occupy movement. Because of his activities during the demonstrations, and more specifically because he presumably tweeted about them, the City of New York has issued a subpoena commanding Twitter to appear “as a witness in a criminal action prosecuted by the People of the State of New York against Malcolm Harris.”
The subpoena calls for “any and all user information, including email address, as well as any and all tweets posted for the period of 9/15/2011 – 12/31/2011” by Harris. And while a steadfast “up yours!” sounds fun and romantic, it also warns that failure to produce the documents could result in a criminal contempt of court charge, resulting in a $1000 fine and up to a year in prison.
And what heinous crime did Harris commit, you may wonder, that justifies dredging up more than three months of tweets and other information? It appears to be related to his Occupy Wall Street activity – according to Betabeat, he was “tweeting from the front lines of the now infamous Brooklyn Bridge mass arrests” – but as Harris himself noted, that charge is merely a “disorderly conduct violation,” hardly worth all this trouble. “They clearly want to see what I was saying around Sept. 17th for unrelated reasons,” he wrote.
Regardless of Harris’ alleged crimes, the Twitter subpoena, if successful, will almost certainly have a chilling effect on its use in any kind of group activism, such as coordinating demonstrations and tracking detained demonstrators. And that’s quite possibly the intent – deter similar “uprisings” in the future by restricting the ability of individuals to communicate. But that flies in the face of the praise Twitter and other social networks earned during the Arab Spring, when it was given credit “as a tool to both inspire and reflect the Arab street.”
Harris said he’s trying to “dream up a legal strategy that quashes the Twitter subpoena,” but the clock is ticking, as Twitter said it will hand the documents over in seven days “unless there’s a motion to quash or another reason not to.” Not that the company is rolling over for the Man entirely: Twitter was also ordered “not to disclose the existence of this subpoena to any party [as] such disclosure would impede the investigation being conducted and interfere with the enforcement of law,” but Harris said it sent him a copy of the document anyway.