Social media sites have long been considered liabilities for individuals. For years, employers and investigators have used Twitter and Facebook posts to uncover personal histories. This past week, State Supreme Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr. ruled that Twitter must hand over deleted posts from user Malcolm Harris in connection with disorderly conduct charges.
Harris was part of an Occupy Wall Street march over the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1 that involved hundreds of disorderly conduct prosecutions. The tension on the bridge took place when law enforcement officials claimed that the over 700 marchers refused to stay on the sidewalk after multiple demands that the group remain off of the street.
Harris, and others charged with disorderly conduct on this occasion, argue that they were unaware of the police mandate to stay on the sidewalk of the bridge and that some NYPD officers actually led the protesters out onto the street. As protesters continued to walk in the street, hundreds were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
The main disagreement between law enforcement and the marchers has now turned into a larger-than-life dispute about privacy and the place of social media in resolving legal cases. If outdated posts on Twitter and other social media sites have been deleted, are they still part of the public record?
Judge Sciarrino says yes. The Washington Post quotes the judge: “What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.” This viewpoint aligns with the judge’s original ruling in March which defended the subpoena for the Twitter posts.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Twitter both took up the fight on behalf of Malcolm Harris. Prosecutors argue that the Twitter posts they want from Harris, dating from September 15 to December 30, could establish whether marchers were aware of the legal infraction of remaining on the street.
While Judge Sciarrino sided with prosecutors and argued that posting on Twitter was akin to shouting out a window or marching on the street, he also ruled that posts older that 180 days on the day of the decision required a search warrant. This decision means that prosecutors must now apply for a search warrant to obtain the deleted Twitter posts they want.
Although the case itself revolves around a relatively minor incident on the Brooklyn Bridge, the legal implications of this argument cannot be overestimated. The decisions in this case could seriously endanger user privacy on the internet. Many Twitter and Facebook users might want to heed the warning of the Inquisitr, “I have said it a million times, you need to watch what you say on social networks because communication never fully disappears.”
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