This case arises out of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office's prosecution of Malcolm Harris, who was among hundreds of people arrested on disorderly conduct charges for marching onto the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1, 2011. In January, the district attorney's office subpoenaed Twitter for a broad swath of information about Harris, including the content of his tweets, his subscriber information, and the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that correspond to each time he used Twitter over a three-and-a-half month period – information that would reveal Harris's location whenever he was using Twitter. Harris moved to quash the subpoena.
In April, a judge ruled that Harris had no standing to challenge the Twitter subpoena. The judge also determined that the subpoena is lawful and ordered Twitter to comply with it. Harris subsequently filed a motion to reargue, and Twitter weighed in with a motion to quash the court's order.
The NYCLU joined an amicus brief filed by the ACLU in New York City Criminal Court on May 31, 2012 in support of Twitter's motion . The brief argued that the court's order requiring Twitter to comply with the subpoena violated Harris's constitutional rights to free speech and privacy. The brief maintained that Harris has standing to challenge the subpoena because his First Amendment right to free speech is implicated – and that whether he has such standing or not is a separate question from the merits.
Numerous decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts throughout the country have held that individuals whose constitutional rights are implicated by government requests for information to third parties can challenge those requests before the information is disclosed. The brief also maintained that the subpoena violates Harris's First Amendment right to free speech and Fourth Amendment right to privacy, and his corresponding rights under the New York State Constitution.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Citizen Litigation Group joined the NYCLU on the ACLU's amicus brief. On June 30, 2012, the criminal court denied both Twitter's and Harris's motions, and ordered Twitter to comply with the subpoena. On Aug. 28, 2012, the four organizations filed an amicus brief in the New York State Appellate Division, First Department supporting Twitter's appeal of the order.
New York City Criminal Court, Case No. 2011NY080152 (amicus)