Did SF prosecutors subpoena protesters' account information from Twitter?


UPDATED A group calling itself the Anti-Colonial Anti-Capitalist 19 (ACAC19), representing 19 demonstrators who were arrested Oct. 6 in downtown San Francisco during a Columbus Day protest that devolved into a violent clash with police officers, says the Twitter account information of two protesters has been subpoenaed by local police or prosecutors.

“They got a letter saying Twitter was going to turn over the files unless the defendants filed a motion to quash, which they're going to do on Friday,” said Tony Marks-Block, a spokesperson for the group, which has started a blog and campaign of Twitter postings to publicize their plight.

The Guardian could not independently confirm the subpoenas, letter, or the identities of those targeted, which Marks-Block told us the defendants were unwilling to release yet because of legal concerns. [UPDATE 12/10: Marks-Block has shared redacted copies of the subpoenas, which were served on Twitter by the District Attorney's Office on Nov. 13, with the Guardian. It claims the account information being sought "would tend to show there was a conspiracy or agreement to stage a riot, to unlawfully assembly, and to wear a disguise while partaking in criminal activities; thus, the records or lack thereof are material to the crimes charged."]

Twitter spokesperson Jim Prosser told us, “We don't comment on specific requests or an individual user.” And SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza denied the group's claim that the SFPD issued the subpoenas, telling us, “This matter was not handled by the SFPD.”

But given that the case is currently with the District Attorney's Office, with a pretrial conference scheduled for Dept. 16 in Superior Court tomorrow (Fri/7) at 1:30pm, it's likely that any subpoenas would have come from prosecutors rather than police. DA's spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman told us, “We cannot go into specific details about this case because there is an ongoing investigation.”

Protesters in the group were initially charged with felony conspiracy and inciting to riot charges, which have since been scaled back to misdemeanors. And police officers who broke up the protest came under fire after video from the incident showed a violent crackdown by officers, which police sources said was prompted by block bloc protesters hurling bags of paint and other projectiles.

The group charged that the crackdown and invasive investigation were intended to quell efforts by these and other anarchists to challenge capitalism. “This invasion of privacy is part of a current wave of political repression on the West Coast,” member Marion Delgado said in the press release. “The federal Grand Jury investigations in the Pacific Northwest and this attempt to stop us from using social media are connected. We're been attacking capitalism; they're attacking back.”

In the cases that have been made public, San Francisco-based Twitter has generally resisted law enforcement efforts to subpoena information about users engaged in First Amendment-protected activities, starting with the US Department of Justice's 2010 effort to gather information about Wikileaks and continuing after New York City law enforcement officials issued a subpoena to get account information from an Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge of Oct. 1, 2011, which Twitter has been fighting in court. In August of this year, Twitter complied with an NYPD subpoena for a user who threatened to massacre theater-goers.

As Delgrado said in the press release, “This is not the first time the online information network has been used as a resource for state repression of political activity. This is part of an ongoing effort to chill political movements in the Bay Area and beyond.”