Posts Tagged ‘OWS’

Twitter Deserves Continuing Credit for Defending Privacy in Harris v. N.Y.

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

gavel coming down on twitter birdFrom what I see, Twitter is doing a strong job of standing up for user privacy in the case of the criminal prosecution of Malcolm Harris. In that case (CMLP summary) New York prosecutors are trying to get Twitter to hand over information about Harris, who has been charged with disorderly conduct relating to an October 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Yesterday, Twitter handed over the requested information pursuant to a court order.

There has been a lot of traffic suggesting that Twitter gave up rather than continue to fight (e.g., Betabeat: “Twitter Caves”). But that’s unfair. Twitter is trying to get review from a higher court. And the records they turned over are sealed until September 21, when another hearing is set.

Twitter has done the right thing. It is right for Twitter to resist. But it is also right for Twitter to comply with the court order to turn over the information. (Even though the court was plainly wrong to issue the order.)

What Twitter should do – and what it is doing in this case – is use all available legal process to protect user privacy. Twitter should not, however, violate the law in order to thwart the courts and prosecutors.

Many reporting on the case have said something to the effect that Twitter decided to turn over the information rather than face expensive fine for being held in contempt of court. (EFF said something similar in an otherwise great post on the case.) Saying that makes it sound like Twitter cheaped out. But, as I see, and as I would see it if I were advising Twitter, the problem is not the expense, it’s that refusing to comply with the court order means Twitter itself is violating the law.

It’s true that reporters will often take a contempt citation and go to jail to protect an anonymous source. When they do, it’s civil disobedience, and it’s often heroic. I hate to say it, but the stake are simply lower here. Anonymous-source-based journalism outed Watergate. It’s cultural and societal importance looms very large. Journalists have tried to get shield laws passed to prevent contempt being used to compel the identification of anonymous sources. And shield laws have been passed in many states. For the remaining gaps, brave reporters have often acted in defiance of the courts and the law to uphold free-press values.

The battle Twitter is fighting is different. It’s more of a general internet privacy issue, and while important, it’s a different ball of wax. It’s worth fighting for the cause in the courts, in the legislatures, and on the international level. But I’m not convinced there are fundamental rights here which necessitate disobeying court process.

Practical Advice for Protest Reporting from Web Chat with Law and Journalism Experts

Friday, August 17th, 2012

I attended yesterday’s web chat about reporting at political convention protests. The chat,
sponsored by Harvard’s Citizen Media Law Project, the International News Safety Institute, and the Free Press organization, was chock full of practical advice served up with a generous helping of what-it’s-like personal accounts.

Natasha Lennard, who has worked for the New York Times and now writes for Salon.com, described how she was among 700 people kettled and arrested in the Occupy Wall Street protests. She said that for the NYPD, if you are in the wrong place, it doesn’t matter if you are press.

“If you stick with the crowd which is what you feel you should do to get the story, you end up in a very precarious situation yourself,” Lennard said.

Andy Sellars, an attorney with Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center, made the point that when the police are ordering people to move, it helps in many cases to self-identify as a member of the press, but it might make reporting more difficult as you may wind up getting moved far away from the action.

For unaffiliated citizen journalists, Sellars said that it may be a good idea to use a homemade credential. But he warned not to copy anyone else’s credentials. Using credentials intended to look like they were issued by the police, for instance, may be unlawful in itself and, at any rate, is likely to make you a special target of for officers.

John Knefel, an independent journalist who has a radio show with his sister on Radio Dispatch, described his arrest at Occupy Wall Street. After being thrown to the ground, he was arrested and held for about 37 hours.

It was an ordeal, and Knefel singled out New York’s jail food for special scorn. While the arrest didn’t deter Knefel from attending and reporting from events, he said, it make him less likely to rush to a specific location where arrests were happening.

“Clearly it’s meant to have a chilling effect,” Knefel said. “That’s the goal here. It’s to make activists want to stay home. It’s to make journalists want to not cover things or to not cover them as directly or as intimately as they may want to.”

With a view toward the upcoming major-party political conventions in Charlotte, N.C. and Tampa, Fla., Sellars noted that local laws prohibit certain items. In Florida, prohibited items include tripods and bipods. There are also prohibitions on glass, ropes, and masks.

Natasha Lennard’s practical advice included going the site early to give yourself an internalized map of the relevant portions of the city. Knowing what side street you can duck into could help you avoid getting stuck, she said. She also rattled off a list of items to bring with you. She recommended packing milk of magnesia for cleaning away pepper spray, a bike helmet to wear if the batons come out, a bandana to pull out in the case of tear gas, and a lawyer’s phone number – inked on your forearm.

Lennard noted that you should not expect your cell phone to work if things get heated. Cell sites could get overloaded precisely when you most want to make a call or get information out.

Another web chat on the same topic is scheduled for Thursday, August 23 at 8 p.m. Eastern. To attend, go to the Free Press website. You don’t need to sign up in advance.