After months of resistance, Twitter has reportedly agreed to provide the Manhattan District Attorney's office with information about user Malcolm Harris, who was arrested for disorderly conduct in October during an Occupy Wall Street protest. The company (and Harris) had sought to deny the DA's request ever since the October 1st incident — which saw hundreds detained for blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge — but faced with contempt of court (and consequential fines), it seems Twitter has finally relented on the matter.
Twitter meets the court-ordered deadline
"It is my understanding that Twitter will comply, barring a stay," said Martin Stolar, Harris' lawyer, speaking to the Chicago Tribune. This follows a deadline set earlier in the week by judge Matthew Sciarrino, who in June rejected Twitter's Fourth Amendment concerns and demanded the company hand over Harris' tweet history from September 15th through December 31st. Twitter's argument was in fact two-fold: it also complained that by denying Harris the chance to block the original subpoena, the court had placed "a new and overwhelming burden on Twitter to fight for its users' rights." The company, its lawyers argued, was being forced into an untenable position. It could either hand over all requests willfully — which would draw no shortage of privacy complaints — or find itself engulfed in legal cases it knew "little or nothing about."
The company's bottom line remains private
Still, there's another important reason Twitter chose today as the right time to concede, and it has little to do with the rights of its users. Had the company persisted with fighting the order, reports Bloomberg, it would've been forced to provide two quarters worth of earnings statements to Sciarrino to help the judge calculate an appropriate fine. As a private company, Twitter's financials have long been shrouded in secrecy, so compliance guarantees that it won't need to reveal that closely-guarded data. We've reached out to Twitter for comment on the situation.
Update: Twitter declined to comment directly but pointed us to a statement made by outside counsel earlier today. The document confirms that Twitter has handed over the requested content to the Criminal Court of the City of New York. In a last ditch effort, however, the company's lawyers have asked the court to hang onto the sealed envelope until an appeals decision is handed down in November. We've included the full statement below:
STATEMENT BY TERRYL L. BROWN OF HARRIS BEACH, PLLC, TO THE CRIMINAL COURT OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
September 14, 2012
We have the documents with us today in a sealed envelope. On behalf of Twitter, Inc., we would like the opportunity to make a statement on the record.
As this court has speciﬁcally stated in its prior rulings, this case includes an issue of ﬁrst impression, and we would suggest, as such, is certainly worthy of review by the appellate courts of this state. The underlying legal issue of ﬁrst impression is complicated and is adversely afected since there is an argument that will surely be made by the District Attorney, that by complying with the subpoena and producing the documents in question, Twitter may arguably extinguish its appeal currently pending in Appellate term.
As a pure matter of law, today Twitter is being given a fundamentally unfair Hobson’s choice that is contrary to the core of our justice system of being compelled to either waive its right to appeal so that novel legal issues may be adjudicated on the merits, or being held in criminal and/or civil contempt. Such would be a patently unfair and unjust result where Twitter is exercising the legal remedies available to it in order to have a novel issued decided by the courts.
Since our appeal is already ﬁled and the appeal is scheduled to be heard in November, and as set forth at paragraph "24" of our afrmation response, we would respectfully asked this court to stay its June 30, 2012 decision and order pending review and determination by Appellate Term.
In the alternative, I have the documents subject to the District Attorney’s subpoena with me today. They are contained in a white, legal-sized sealed envelope with my name on the back of the envelope and the caption of the case on the front of the envelope. I would ask the court to consider the following resolution to strike the reasonable balance of conﬁrming that Twitter is not willfully disobeying a court order, with twitter’s fundamental right to appeal the decision of this court.
Twitter respectfully request that Your Honor receive the documents and hold them under seal (without inspection or production to the District Attorney) until such time as the Appellate Term issues its decision concerning this court’s orders, particularly since this is a novel issue, all parties will beneﬁt from the guidance of the Appellate Division.
Moreover, the Disorderly Conduct trial is scheduled for December 12, 2012, and thus there would be no unreasonable delay of the Harris non-jury trial. Neither the People of the State of New York nor the District Attorney will not be prejudiced by awaiting a decision on the appeal, and in fact may beneﬁt in future cases from an appellate resolution of this matter. Twitter respectfully requests the Court to hold the documents under seal until the appeal is decided on the merits.
In the alternative, should the Court conduct an in camera review of the documents, Twitter requests that the documents remain in the Court’s sole possession and custody until a determination is made on the appeal.
Thank you Your Honor