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Twitter faces looming deadline on court order to reveal user's information

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
After a state appellate court earlier this week denied Twitter's request to stay the proceedings, lawyers for the social networking…

After a state appellate court earlier this week denied Twitter's request to stay the proceedings, lawyers for the social networking company argued that disclosing an Occupy Wall Street protester's tweets and subscriber information would negatively affect those who use the social media service.

Following that decision by the Appellate Term of the Supreme Court, New York City Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino, Jr., required the company to turn over to prosecutors information about Malcom Harris’ Twitter use and account. Twitter has until Friday to comply with the order or face civil and criminal contempt charges, the judge ruled. Sciarrino previously denied Twitter's request to stay the proceedings.

Terryl Brown, an attorney representing Twitter, has declined to comment about whether the company will hand over the information. But in a legal memorandum filed late Tuesday, Twitter lawyers asked Sciarrino, in light of the important interests at stake in the case, to refrain from imposing sanctions while the appellate process plays out.

Turning over the requested documents would forfeit Twitter's right to appeal an issue that "will have implications for millions of Twitter users in New York,” the company argued. Specifically, if Twitter were to comply with Sciarrino's order, the appellate court would be unable to address the underlying issues of privacy and confidentiality on the Internet. Twitter filed its appeal in July.

The New York County District Attorney’s Office subpoenaed Twitter in January for information about Harris’ Twitter account, including the content of tweets he posted from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31, 2011, as well as contextual data such as the Internet Protocol addresses corresponding to each post, which could reveal Harris' location at the time the messages were sent.

In October, Harris was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after he, along with 700 other activists, allegedly marched on the Brooklyn Bridge, trickling onto the roadway. The District Attorney’s Office said it was interested in Harris’ Twitter activity because it might show the protestor was aware he was not supposed to walk on the bridge’s roadway, disproving his anticipated defense that he was unaware that walking there was prohibited.

In May, Twitter filed a motion to quash the subpoena, but Sciarrino denied the request in late June, ordering the company to produce the information.

If Twitter has not provided the subpoenaed information by the court hearing on Friday, Sciarrino said he would review Twitter’s last two quarterly statements to determine how much to fine the company as a form of sanctions, according to a Reuters report.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· New York – Privilege Compendium: 1. Civil contempt

· New York – Privilege Compendium: 2. Criminal contempt