Twitter: Tool of democracy, okay when in Iran, illegal when in US

5 11 2009

Care of Strike-the-Root and Wired.

Federal authorities can resume combing through the notebooks, memory cards and computers of a twittering anarchist being investigated for violating an anti-rioting law, a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled Monday.

U.S. district court judge Dora L. Irizzary found no reason to throw out the government’s search of the home of a 41-year old social worker who used the micro-publishing service Twitter to help anti-globalization protestors at the recent G-20 convention, clearing the way for the feds to look through the evidence they collected. Madison and his attorney sought to have his possessions returned unexamined, on the grounds the search violated his constitutional rights to free speech.

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The Joint Terrorism Task Force raided Elliott Madison’s house in a dawn raid on October 1, seizing myriad computers, unpublished manuscripts, phones and books from the social worker, his urban planner wife and his housemates. The materials were seized as evidence in a federal grand jury investigation of whether Madison violated a rarely-used federal statute that makes it a crime to help rioters.

Madison, an anarchist and prolific writer, seems to have drawn the attention of New York’s U.S. Attorney’s office after he was arrested in a Pittsburgh motel room on September 24 for legally listening to a police scanner and then tweeting the information. During the G-20 summit, heavily armed police officers reacted to the anti-globalization protesters with tear gas, sonic weapons, rubber bullets and mass arrests. Madison was in jail during the height of the confrontation, charged with criminal use of a communication facility.

When protesters in Iran similarly used Twitter to organize anti-government rallies, the U.S. State Department hailed the micro-blogging service as a boon to democracy.

The Department of Justice is not so easily persuaded of the service’s usefulness. While Madison has not been charged by the feds, the rioting law he’s suspected of violating carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

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7 11 2009

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