Twitter will appeal judge's ruling to turn over protester's tweets

Last week Twitter announced it would appeal a decision by a New York judge requiring the company to turn over the tweets of an Occupy Wall Street protester, citing the privacy rights of its users. This comes on the heels of Twitter’s release of a transparency report, outlining the number of requests the microblogging service receives from governments for user information.

This particular case revolves around Malcolm Harris, a Brooklyn man who was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct during the Occupy Wall Street protests on the Brooklyn Bridge last year. Manhattan prosecutors served Twitter with a subpoena, requesting his user information and tweets over a three month period, which they said would show whether Harris had known about the police orders that he is charged with ignoring. Last month, a criminal court judge rejected Twitter’s argument that it would violate Harris’ privacy by turning over the tweets and information.

In his decision, the judge wrote "if you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy." Nevertheless, Twitter’s legal counsel Ben Lee said in a statement that the company intends to appeal the decision. He tweeted that "they’re appealing the decision because "it doesn't strike the right balance between the rights of users and the interests of law enforcement."

Twitter’s decision to appeal on behalf of its users marks an interesting turning point in both how the law applies to social media and what rights users have over their social media posts. Jeff John Roberts writes on GigaOM about the likelihood of the appeal going forward:

A higher court is likely to hear the appeal because the Harris affair is an important test case of privacy and social media, and because Judge Sciarrino Jr.’s rulings contain questionable reasoning and a bombastic writing style. In his rulings, the judge holds himself out as an authority on social media and uses Twitter-style hashtags with words like "#quash" and "#subpoena."

Earlier this month, Twitter released its first transparency report, which documents the requests the company receives from governments and copyright holders requesting Twitter to take down content or divulge user information. The first report, which covers the period from January 1 to June 30 of this year, shows that Twitter received 849 requests from governments for user information and six requests for content removal. Twitter did not comply with any of the content removal requests.