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If you tweet, it’s the same as though you screamed your message out of the window.
On October 11, 2011, the defendant in this case was charged with Disorderly Conduct for allegedly marching on the Brooklyn Bridge. In connection with the Disorderly Conduct charge, New York sent a subpoena to Twitter in order to see the defendant’s account information and tweets, asserting they are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.
Twitter reached out to the defendant and alerted him to the subpoena. The defendant alerted Twitter that he was going to file a motion to quash the subpoena. Twitter then took the position that it would refuse to comply with the subpoena until the court ruled on the defendant’s motion to quash the subpoena.
The crux of the issue is whether Twitter users have standing to challenge third-party disclosure requests.
Twitter argues that denying the defendant standing places an undue burden on it for two reasons: (1) it essentially forces Twitter to choose between either providing user communications and account information in response to all subpoenas and (2) it attempts to vindicate its users’ rights by moving to quash these subpoenas itself.
The Court disagreed with Twitter, stating simply that this very burden is placed on every third-party respondent to a subpoena and cannot be used to create standing for a defendant where none exists. Accordingly, Twitter lacked standing to challenge the disclosure request.
The court addressed also a Fourth Amendment challenge, which argued that releasing the information violates the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
To violate the Fourth Amendment, a defendant must show either (1) a physical intrusion on the defendant’s personal property or (2) a violation of a defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Here, the defendant could show neither.
Because the defendant purposely broadcasted his message to the entire online world, there was no physical intrusion. And because the defendant voluntarily relayed his messages to others, the government did not violate any reasonable expectation of privacy.
Tweet away, folks. But remember, there is no proprietary interest in your tweets, which you have gifted to the world. If you tweet, it’s the same as though you screamed your message out of the window.
Law Student 5, a third year law student at Seton Hall University School of Law.