Court Prompts Twitter to Give Data to Police in Threat Caseby WENDY RUDERMAN, nytimes.com
August 7th 2012
Twitter officials have complied with a court order to turn over account information to help New York police investigators identify who threatened to carry out an attack like the Colorado movie theater shooting at a Broadway theater where Mike Tyson is appearing in a one-man show, the police said Tuesday.
The compliance came three days after the social media company, based in California, denied an emergency request from the Police Department to provide the account holder’s registration information and computer network address. Investigators learned of the unsettling Twitter posts on Friday, the opening night of “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” at the Longacre Theater in Midtown, said Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman.
Mr. Browne declined to say whether investigators had tracked down the person believed to have posted, “I’m serious, people are gonna die like Aurora,” an apparent reference to the deadly shooting last month during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.
The posting was among a string of Twitter posts that alarmed police investigators: “I might just shoot up this theater in New York”; “I know they leave their exit doors unlocked”; “I got 600 people on my hit list and that’s gonna be a mass murder for real.”
Investigators sent Twitter an emergency request for the account information just before midnight on Friday. The company responded at 2:15 a.m. on Saturday, rejecting the request, Mr. Browne said. The New York Post published an article about the subpoena on Tuesday.
“We appreciate the timeliness and sensitivity of this matter, and have reviewed the reported Twitter account,” the company wrote in an e-mail to the police. “While we do invoke emergency-disclosure procedures when it appears that a threat is present, specific and immediate, this does not appear to fall under those strict parameters as per our policies.”
Police investigators disagreed and asked the Manhattan district attorney’s office to obtain a subpoena, which was served on Twitter late Monday, Mr. Browne said.
“We felt that a threat involving an identified location in the heart of the theater district merited immediate cooperation,” Mr. Browne said.
Larry Cunningham, an associate professor and associate dean at St. John’s University School of Law in Queens, said he agreed that Twitter should have cooperated without a court order.
“Social media is of increasing importance to law enforcement and criminal prosecutions,” said Mr. Cunningham, a former criminal prosecutor. “In general, social media outlets do a very good job of cooperating with authorities, but in this case, however, Twitter should have given the information without a court order under their emergency procedures policy. The threats were clear enough.”
A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment on Tuesday.
Mr. Browne said the Police Department had added officers to patrol the area near the Longacre Theater, at 220 West 48th Street. “We will provide coverage at the Longacre Theater until such time as we identify and locate the person responsible for the threats,” he said Tuesday night.
The Shubert Organization, which owns Longacre, said in a statement on Tuesday: “We are aware of the Twitter threat and have communicated with the appropriate law enforcement agencies. We are taking all appropriate actions under the circumstances.”
“Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth,” directed by Spike Lee, chronicles the heavyweight boxing champion’s life. Mr. Tyson did not respond to a request for comment sent to his Web site.
The subpoena issued to Twitter was not the first time the Police Department and prosecutors sought court intervention to obtain information.
In May, prosecutors obtained a subpoena requiring Twitter to turn over information about an account holder who had posted on Twitter during an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. In that case, the Manhattan district attorney’s office sought to get previously deleted messages that had been posted by one of the hundreds of demonstrators arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge during a march on Oct. 1, 2011.
Prosecutors argued that the posts might reveal whether the protester was aware that the police had ordered demonstrators not to cross the bridge. Twitter challenged the subpoena, citing privacy laws, but a Manhattan judge rejected the challenge on the basis that the posts are public.
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