COMMENTARY | The Atlantic Wire reports that a judge in New York ruled on April 23 that all messages posted using Twitter can be subpoenaed without a warrant. The judge said that even those messages that have been deleted from Twitter are subject to subpoena, since the tweets are from a third party. This ruling was based on an Occupy Wall Street protestor who was trying to block a subpoena of his Twitter account, which all relates to a disorderly conduct charge from Nov. 2011. Although this ruling is partially correct, there are a lot of reasons why using messages posted on Twitter without a warrant could result in a lot of legal drama.
In the age of Facebook and Twitter, it should be no real surprise that anything posted on these websites could be used against you in a court of law, considering that these websites are open to the public. When it comes to the Internet, there is not a reasonable expectation of privacy, especially when someone is posting a message using a social networking website. I do think that if someone has their Twitter profile set to private, a warrant should be needed to access that information, but anything available to the public is fair game. I fear that this will set a precedent in other states as well, and will not be limited to New York. Social networking websites are nothing more than a great way for the police and court system to harvest information from everyday Americans, and allows police to spy on citizens without having to obtain a warrant. Even if you delete something, it is still able to be retrieved through your computer, which is also something to keep in mind when you post a message online.
The only issue with this ruling is that there needs to be a way to determine whether or not the person actually posted the information on Twitter. With people getting hacked all of the time, people stealing passwords, and other identity theft issues, how will the police or judge know it was the suspect that posted the information? A good defense team could argue that it was not their client posting the messages on Twitter, and could even say that someone else had access to his account. There is a lot of computer forensics that could be used to determine where and when messages were posted, but it is a waste of time and money for a small criminal matter. The only time that Twitter messages should be subpoenaed without a warrant is for a violent crime, such as a murder or rape, and not for small issues like a disorderly conduct. I believe that the police and court system will abuse this power, so there should be guidelines that say when this type of subpoena is relevant. This could all be a very big legal hassle to deal with, since it might not even be admissible in court in the first place.