If you use Twitter, you might assume  you own your tweets since you’re creating them.  While the law is definitely not settled yet, I want to keep you updated on this evolving issue and about a recent judicial decision that may or may not surprise you.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office had subpoenaed Twitter to get the tweets and other data of a person arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest.  The subpoena was opposed on the grounds that releasing the tweets and other data would violate the arrestee’s 4th Amendment privacy rights.  Judge Matthew Sciarriro, Criminal Court of the City of New York, New York County heard the case.

In his first ruling, the Judge found that Twitter, not Twitter users, own the tweets once they’re posted.  So he found that the District Attorney’s Office’s request for the tweets wouldn’t violate the arrestee’s 4th Amendment rights.  Twitter appealed and in a recent decision the Judge acknowledged that the current laws haven’t kept pace with the changing technology.  Nevertheless, he again found that  Twitter is a “3rd party” and a “service provider” which “overhears” the public tweets so there’s no intrusion into a user’s privacy by disclosing them.

The Judge found that tweets are not like private emails or other ways of having private conversations on the Internet.  Therefore, he reaffirmed that Twitter users have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” concerning their tweets.  He wrote that tweets are like opening a window and shouting out of it.  More details on the decision can be found in Alex Fitzpatrick’s Mashable July 6th article (http://www.mashable.com).

We need to be aware about the ways in which courts are grappling with the privacy categorization of various forms of social media.  Yes, this is just one decision in one court in New York City.  However, the question about tweets, and other social media, will likely come up more and more.

It’s also an important reminder about the public nature of  tweets, specifically, as well as other social media, generally.  That reminder is particularly useful when coupled with Twitter’s first “Twitter Transparency Report” (Report).  The Report details the number of governmental requests for tweets and other data that they’ve gotten.  They note in the report that they’ve gotten more government requests in the first half of 2012 than in all of 2011.  The report can be found at: http://blog.twitter.com/2012/07/twitter-transparency-report.html.