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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Corbett Goes After Identity Of Anonymous Posters On Twitter

ACLU Representing Anonymous Twitter Critics of PA Attorney General Tom Corbett

Grand Jury Issued Subpoena to Twitter Demanding Users' Identities

May 20, 2010

HARRISBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania announced today that it is representing two anonymous Twitter users who have criticized State Attorney General Tom Corbett on a social networking site. Corbett's office asked a grand jury to issue a subpoena earlier this month to Twitter demanding the identities of his critics.

"Any subpoena seeking to unmask the identity of anonymous critics raises the specter of political retaliation," said Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania and one of the lawyers representing the Twitter users. "It's a prized American right to criticize government officials, and to do so anonymously."

The subpoena seeks the subscriber information of two Twitter accounts, bfbarbie and CasablancaPA. The subpoena, which asks for records to be turned over by Friday, May 14, was issued by the attorney general's statewide investigating grand jury on May 6.

Twitter has advised the ACLU that they have not disclosed the account holders' identity, after receiving an objection from a user to the production of subscriber information. It is Twitter's policy to delay production in such cases to provide the user an opportunity to assert his or her rights.

A news account earlier today reported that the Attorney General's Office appeared to justify the subpoena by claiming that they needed to know the identities of the Twitter users because they suspected that it was a former legislative aide, Brett Cott, who had been convicted in the Bonusgate case and who was using the blog to "attack and malign the investigative and prosecutorial process, which resulted in his conviction." If true, they argued, this would justify imposing a harsher sentence. The ACLU questions whether seeking evidence in aid of a sentencing proceeding is an appropriate use of the grand jury system.

"The ACLU's concerns are that using the grand jury process in aid of seeking evidence for sentencing is improper and that using the court to unmask political critics is unconstitutional retaliation that violates the First Amendment," said Walczak.

The ACLU's lawyers have entered discussions with the AG's Office, asking them to withdraw the subpoenas. If the AG's Office refuses, the ACLU expects to file a motion to quash the subpoenas.

"For a candidate who is campaigning on his desire to protect the privacy of Pennsylvanians who are affected by the new health care bill, Attorney General Corbett shows a disturbing lack of interest in the privacy of critics who, in the best tradition of American democracy, have chosen to criticize his conduct of office anonymously," said Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which is working with the ACLU on the matter.

In addition to Walczak and Levy, also representing the anonymous Twitter users are Barbara Zemlock, a lawyer with Post Schell in Harrisburg, and Mark Sheppard, an attorney in the Philadelphia office of Montgomery McCracken, Walker and Rhoads, LLP.

Read the Casablanca Google Blog Here


Anonymous said...

I think I can count on one hand the times I have sided with the ACLU, but this is one of those times. The dear Attorney General for this great state continues to look like an incompetent, whinny, petty, vindictive little man. Who is going to be his next target - those who dare think that he has to EARN their vote and abide by the laws of the state? How pathetic.

Anonymous said...

The ACLU is a joke right along with our Attorney General as far as I am concerned!

Anonymous said...

Once in a while they get it right.

Anonymous said...

True 8:31pm. They rarely get it right as far as I see; however this is one of those rare times.I am no fan of ACLU however once in a great while they do ok I guess.

Anonymous said...

Just glad to see someone has stepped up to aide in protecting these people's rights.

The fact that our Attorney General is using the legal system to unmask and bully his political critics is quite alarming.

I think it's time we reminded our elected officials exactly who it was that elected them.

Anonymous said...

I don't like what I read about Tom Corbett.
Also did you know that he received the most contributions from the gas & oil companies for the governor's campaign. So if you hope to see extensive, no holds barred gas drilling on public lands, then vote for Tom.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Tom Corbett is doing exactly what he has charged others for doing in the Bonusgate scandal. This man not only isn't fit for office as Governor, he should be removed from his position as Attorney General and charged just as he has done to others who have done exactly what he is doing now.

Anonymous said...

wow, you guys have it all figured out, congratulations!

lee said...

If you cant sign your name to it or say it to the persons face and you need to hide behind the ACLU's skirt, you are a coward. And what you are saying is B/s. If Corbett is wrong hit him head on don't stab him in the back.

Anonymous said...

What are you talking about 9:19? Do you even know what Tom Corbett did?

Anonymous said...

Debate Sparks Over Video Recording Of Arrests Reporting

Mike Hellgren BALTIMORE (WJZ) ―
A bloody fistfight breaks out between a Baltimore City police officer and a Preakness spectator. Now the video is circulating across the web.

Several Marylanders face felony charges for recording their arrests on camera, and others have been intimidated to shut their cameras off.

That's touched off a legal controversy. Mike Hellgren explains the fierce debate and what you should do to protect yourself.

A man whose arrest was caught on video faces felony charges from Maryland State Police for recording it on camera.

"We are enforcing the law, and we don't make any apologies for that," said Greg Shipley, MSP.

Video of another arrest at the Preakness quickly made its way online, despite an officer issuing this warning to the person who shot it, "Do me a favor and turn that off. It's illegal to videotape anybody's voice or anything else, against the law in the state of Maryland."

But is he right? Can police stop you from recording their actions, like a beating at the University of Maryland College Park?

The American Civil Liberties Union says no.

"For the government to be saying it has the power to prevent citizens from doing that is profoundly shocking, troubling, and particularly in the case of Maryland, simply flat-out wrong," said David Roach, ACLU.

Under Maryland law, conversations in private cannot be recorded without the consent of both people involved.

But can that be applied to incidents such as one caught on tape three years ago where a Baltimore officer arrested a teenager at the Inner Harbor?

"When you tell me to turn it off because it's against the law, you've proven to me that I'm not secretly taping you," said law professor Byron Warnken. "He doesn't have the right to say, if you don't stop recording me, I'm going to arrest you."

The last official interpretation of Maryland's law came from the previous attorney general saying it was legal for officers to record video on dashcams.

Delegate Sandy Rosenberg is pushing the current attorney general for his opinion on whether you can record them, too.

"If he finds that there are circumstances when it's illegal, under existing law, to tape public actions by police or other public officials, then it's appropriate for me to introduce a bill to change that statute," said Rosenberg, Democrat, District 41, Baltimore City