Anything you tweet can and will be used against you in a court of law


And other depressing facts about the state of free speech on the web

Who owns your tweets? The correct answer, according to a Manhattan judge’s interpretation of Twitter’s Terms of Service (TOS) is that Twitter does – and for that reason, the end-user has no standing to challenge a subpoena of those digital records.

Malcolm Harris was arrested for his participation in an October 1st Occupy Wall Street protest, and the prosecutors in the case believe information he posted to Twitter prior to the arrest will help to poke holes in and sink the primary claim of his defense. In this particular case, Harris and other protesters claim that police forced them on to a bridge so that they could be arrested for disrupting traffic, but the information voluntarily posted to the web might just suggest otherwise.

Twitter’s license to use the defendant’s Tweets means that the Tweets the defendant posted were not his – Judge Sciarrino

Unfortunately, the proprietary nature of Twitter and its claim over your content are just among many reasons why provides a superior microblogging service. Anything posted there is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution license, but that license does nominally retain the author’s claim to ownership – and some legal defense to a right of privacy.

Then again, it would be pretty silly to assume any kind of privacy or anonymity on the modern web.

Right to Remain Silent

A series of new laws and rulings have set precedents that should eliminate any such notions – and even the absolute rights implied by the first amendment cannot be assumed to actually be absolute. My new state of residence – North Carolina – is even bringing charges against a Paleo-diet blogger, under the grounds that his communications may constitute nutrition advice – something that only licensed and approved individuals may legally provide. The author recounts his experiences battling diabetes with a diet of fresh, unprocessed foods – and the state claims that his words amount to advice about treating a medical condition.

At least he won’t be spending 20 years in Supermax like Terek Mehanna – the guy who was recently convicted of several federal charges related to terrorism. His actual crime? Well, mostly translating some Youtube videos and “spreading sympathy” for terrorists. Did he physically attack anyone or create concrete plans to do so? Nope, but he said some things that some other people didn’t like.

CISPA on the horizon

After the internet relatiated against Congress’ SOPA plans, it didn’t take long for corporate interests to come up with a similar plan backed up by rhetoric of national security. The new bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), amends the National Security Act of 1947 to include “cyber threats” that are defined as follows:

“vulnerability of, or threat to, a system or network of a government or private entity, including information pertaining to the protection of a system or network from either ‘efforts to degrade, disrupt, or destroy such system or network’; or ‘theft or misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual property, or personally identifiable information.'”

Under that definition, private sector actors like ISPs and website owners will be “encouraged” to share information with national security agents in regard to such nationally destabilizing threats as file sharing.

While the online opposition is heating up again, it is becoming clear that even if it fails to pass the corporate-sponsored lawmakers in Washington will be back with a new version of the plan in a few months. Despite record-low approval ratings, our representatives are charging ahead with their agenda at full speed.

Back down or double down?

As protest and speech are increasingly criminalized with harsher and harsher penalties, what is one to do? The safe solution might be to back down – sticky to non-controversial topics and dedicating an increased amount of time to legal compliance.

On the other hand, the escalation of such heavy-handed laws is also a good reason to stand your ground and take the risk of offending someone with more power than common sense.

And speaking of Common Sense, I’ll leave you with those quote from its author, Thomas Paine, via “The Crisis

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

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