Bloomberg News

Twitter Subpoena Challenged by N.Y. ‘Occupy’ Protester

February 13, 2012

(Updates with lawyer’s comment in third paragraph.)

Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s subpoena of Twitter Inc. for information about the account of an Occupy Wall Street protester and Brooklyn-based writer is improper, the National Lawyers Guild said in a motion to block the request.

Martin Stolar, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, filed the request to invalidate the subpoena on Feb. 6, according to court papers posted on the guild’s website. Vance is seeking information about the “@destructuremal” account of Malcolm Harris, 22, who was arrested with about 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1, according to the filing.

“It’s like swatting a gnat with a sledgehammer,” Stolar said today in a phone interview. “This is one count of disorderly conduct for being one of 700 people arrested,.”

There was no indication Harris had a conspiratorial role or did anything out of the ordinary, Stolar said.

Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for Vance, said prosecutors previously subpoenaed Twitter and declined to comment further.

Harris’ Twitter account is described in its tag line as “TNI, callous revolutionary fervor, trickery ALL TWEETS PROPERTY OF TWITTER, INC.” Harris, a contributing writer to The New Inquiry website, focuses on “generational politics,” according to his biography on the site. His articles include one on “The Feminization of Abstract Labor” in the film “Sleeping Beauty.”

2,200 Protesters

The National Lawyers Guild is providing free defense for arrested Occupy Wall Street protesters including Harris. The group has provided attorneys for almost 2,200 people since the protests began Sept. 17, according to a statement.

Harris told Stolar Jan. 30 that Twitter’s San Francisco office had gotten a notice from Vance seeking all information, including his e-mail address, and all Twitter postings from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31 from an account called “@destructuremal.” Stolar advised Twitter that he would make a motion to quash the subpoena and Twitter’s legal department told him it would delay processing the request based on his intention, according to the motion to quash.

Jenna Sampson, a Twitter spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return a call and e-mail seeking comment on the filing. According to Twitter’s privacy policy, it may preserve or disclose information believed necessary to comply with a law or legal request.

In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron said in August that the government was considering blocking social networks and messaging services including Twitter as police investigated the use of such networks to encourage rioting.

In court papers, Stolar said the subpoena “is overbroad, issued for an improper purpose, and constitutes an abuse of court process.” At a hearing before Judge Neil Ross in state Supreme Court today, the issue of whether Harris has standing in court to challenge a subpoena came up, Stolar said. The issue will be discussed at a future hearing, he said.

The case is People of the State of New York v. Harris, 11-80152, Supreme Court of the State of New York (Manhattan).

--Editors: David Glovin, Glenn Holdcraft

Tiffany Kary in New York at tkary@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Pickering at jpickering@bloomberg.net


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