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Twitter ordered to turn over user data or face fine

A judge tells the microblogging site to produce information about an Occupy Wall Street protester's tweets -- or its last two quarterly reports.

Twitter has three days to turn over information about an Occupy Wall Street protester's tweets or face a fine.

The microblogging site has until Friday to produce either the data or its earnings statements for the past two quarters so that New York State Supreme Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. can determine an amount to fine the company, Bloomberg reported. Prosecutors have subpoenaed Twitter to turn over "any and all user information, including e-mail address, as well as any and all tweets" posted by Malcolm Harris, an activist accused of disorderly conduct during an Occupy Wall Street protest last October that resulted in more than 700 arrests.

"I can't put Twitter or the little blue bird in jail, so the only way to punish is monetarily," Sciarrino said.

In June, Sciarrino ordered Twitter to release all of the data from September 15 to December 30, 2011, linked to the "@destructuremal" Twitter account used by Harris, who was arrested during a protest on the Brooklyn Bridge last October. A request to stay the order pending appeal was rejected last week.

Twitter has challenged the subpoenas, saying users own their Twitter data under the site's terms of service. And the social network has maintained this stance throughout these legal proceedings. In May, Twitter's legal counsel Ben Lee said, "Our filing with the court reaffirms our steadfast commitment to defending those rights for our users."

In an August brief, Twitter told a New York appeals court that police failed to comply with the U.S. Constitution's safeguards when trying to access his account and that the court's finding that "tweets are unprotected by the federal and New York constitutions is still erroneous."

Twitter has been joined in its battle by three consumer rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Public Citizen, which filed a "friend of the court" brief, arguing that allowing the government access to an individual's Twitter account information would chill free speech.

However, Sciarrino ordered the data to be surrendered, ruling that Twitter users have no reasonable expectation of privacy because tweets are public.

CNET has contacted Twitter for comment and will update this report when we learn more.