A decision by Massachusetts prosecutors to subpoena the Twitter records of an Occupy Boston activist, as well as records linked to two Twitter hashtags, has free speech advocates up in arms, calling the move a violation of the First Amendment CNN reports.
Suffolk County prosecutors demanded that Twitter hand over information posted on the social media website by user “Guido Fawkes,” whose Twitter handle is @p0isAn0N, as well as information from the user behind @OccupyBoston and those who Tweeted #BostonPD or #d0xcak3, according to the document.
In the subpoena, which was issued on Dec. 14, prosecutors requested that Twitter release to them “all available subscriber information,” including IP address logs for the time period between Dec. 8 and Dec. 13 as part of an “official criminal investigation.”
Those dates coincide with clashes between protesters and police in Boston’s Dewey Square. Dozens of protesters were arrested after refusing to leave the public space after being ordered to do so by Boston’s mayor, Thomas Menino.
Subpoenaing Twitter records is becoming more common, according to lawyer Ethan Wall, of the Richman Greer law firm in Miami. Wall, who specializes in intellectual property litigation, said the practice could have “a chilling effect on free speech.”
“We are in this information-accessible age where we can post anything and everything from anywhere on any device,” Wall said. “Because it’s so easy I don’t think that people put the thought into how this might affect them personally, professionally or legally.”
A Suffolk County Superior judge held a private hearing Thursday and impounded all documents pertaining to the case. Following a sidebar with counsel, the judge overruled the objections to the subpoena.
A CNN correspondent contacted me over the holidays to comment on the subpoena prior to the court issuing its ruling. This is not the first time Twitter records have been subpoenaed in high profile cases. In March 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice served a subpoena seeking the identity of the founders and supports of WikiLeaks. As more people flock to Twitter to comment on their personal, professional, and political lives – I foresee more subpoenas directed at this type of information in the future.
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Ethan teaches social media CLE programs to lawyers, law firms, and legal associations. He can design a one hour, half day, or full day workshop at your office, firm retreat, or conference that will be approved for both ethics and general CLE credit. Learn more about how Ethan can be your social media law keynote speaker at your next conference on topics related to social media and the law.