Twitter steps in to protect freedom of speech

9 May 2012

Social network Twitter has gone to court in New York in an attempt to quash a court order that requests it turns over information about one of its users who is being prosecuted in connection with the Occupy Wall Street protest on Brooklyn Bridge last year.

The user, Malcolm Harris (aka @destructuremal), was arrested for disorderly conduct during the protests.

The New York District Attorney’s office issued a subpoena requesting information about Harris’ activity on the microblogging site during the protests last October when 700 people were arrested.

Harris’ attorney was unable to quash the subpoena because Harris did not apparently have the legal standing and so Twitter has stepped in to file a motion to quash the court order.

Constitutional debate on freedom of speech now includes social media

The case has sparked a furious debate in the US about constitutional freedoms and challenges, in particular the Fourth Amendment, which many Americans cherish as a bastion of civil liberties.

In the case, however, presiding judge pointed out that the Fourth Amendment provides protection for people’s physical homes whereas information on the internet, including private information sent to third parties, exists on remote network servers.

While the case is centred on activities in New York, Twitter’s response is pivotal when you consider the global situation in light of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt last year, where the use of social media networks like Facebook and Twitter were pivotal.

The fact that one of the world’s biggest social networks has stepped in to protect a user in one of the world’s biggest cities to protect freedom of speech during civil unrest is a profound statement in itself.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years