EFF: Prosecutors want location data via a Twitter shortcut

A subpoena for a protestor's Twitter account information could reveal location data without forcing authorities to obtain a search warrant, privacy advocates at the EFF note.

This is a screenshot of a digital version of the subpoena to Twitter.
This is a screenshot of a digital version of the subpoena to Twitter. ACLU
New York City prosecutors have subpoenaed Twitter in order to get data about the account holder's location during the Occupy Wall Street protests, the Electronic Frontier Foundation disclosed in a blog post today.

By granting the subpoena request -- which Twitter has challenged -- the court is allowing prosecutors to bypass the need for a search warrant as typically required when seeking location information, the EFF argues.

"The judge also allowed the government to get access to location information without a search warrant. Twitter keeps a record of a user's IP address when he logs in to post a tweet," Hanni Fakhoury, EFF staff attorney, writes. "Since the majority of Twitter users access the site through mobile phones, these IP addresses are keys that help unlock a person's location."

The post quotes from the prosecution's case:

to refute the defendant's anticipated defense, that the police either led or escorted the defendant into stepping onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge. The People claim the defendant's anticipated defense is contradicted by his public statements, which identifies the @destructuremal account as likely belonging to the defendant and indicates that while on the Brooklyn Bridge the defendant may have posted Tweets that were inconsistent with his anticipated trial defense.

With Harris' 1,500 followers and 7,200 some-odd tweets, he was an attractive target, Fakhoury notes.

"While the NYC prosecutors may be interested in Harris' movement on the day of his arrest, the subpoena requested three months of information from Twitter, far more than the 28 days at issue the Supreme Court found violated the Fourth Amendment," he writes. "And by figuring out where Harris was for three months, the government can learn much about him and the Occupy movement."

The subpoena (PDF) asks Twitter for "any and all user information, including email address, as well as any and all tweets posted for the period of 9/15/2011-12/31/2011" for the @destructuremal account.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney's office said prosecutors were declining to comment on the EFF post. Prosecutors have said that they are only seeking information that is public in their motion asking the court to deny the motion to quash the Twitter subpoena.

If Twitter's motion to quash the subpoena is denied, its executives will face a $1,000 fine and one year in prison unless it turns over the information.

Updated 2:30 p.m. PT with no comment from prosecutor's office.

 

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