Court Seals ACLU Challenge to Twitter Subpoena

December 29, 2011 5:10 pm

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Statement by the ACLU of Massachusetts

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BOSTON — We are disappointed and concerned that a Suffolk Superior Court judge today held a secret hearing over the objections of lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and then impounded all documents and motions filed in the case.

The matter involves a challenge to an already publicly-available and widely-reported administrative subpoena issued by the Suffolk District Attorney’s office on December 14, 2011 to Twitter, seeking personally identifying information for an anonymous Twitter user, as well as information on anyone “associated with” two Twitter hashtags: #d0xcak3 and #BostonPD. Twitter hashtags are essentially key words used to indicate a topic of conversation.

“The ACLU believes that courtrooms and court proceedings should be open to the public, except in rare and extraordinary circumstances,” said Carol Rose, executive director for the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Secret court proceedings, particularly proceedings involving First Amendment issues, are troubling as a matter of both law and democracy. In addition, the manner in which the administrative subpoena in this case was used, and its purported scope, is equally troubling and, in our opinion, well beyond what the Massachusetts statute allows.”

At the request of the government, and over the objection of ACLU attorneys, Judge Carol Ball today heard nearly 30 minutes of argument at sidebar–meaning that arguments by the attorneys were closed to the public, with several minutes of the hearing held with the judge hearing only attorneys from the prosecutor’s office and excluding the ACLU attorneys. Thereafter, the judge ruled that the record of the proceedings and all documents filed by the parties were impounded by the court.

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