Twitter and the New York Police Department are in a feud over the release of a user’s name who claims to create a scene “just like in Aurora.” The user has been sending out threatening tweets about attacking the Longacre Theatre on Broadway where Mike Tyson’s one-man show is playing.
Twitter has not been complying with the NYPD’s requests for the user’s name, so the department plans to subpoena the social media site today.
The NYPD Intelligence Division learned about the user’s threats on August 3, prompting them to use Twitter’s system for emergencies to request the user’s identity.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said “Twitter turned us down, so we dispatched police to cover the theater while we sought a subpoena to force Twitter to disclose the identity of the account holder. We take the threat seriously, especially in light of recent attacks in Wisconsin and Colorado.”
After ABCNews.com emailed requests for Twitter’s comment on the matter, a spokeswoman wrote that they “don’t have a comment on this.” Attached to the email was a link to Twitter’s guidelines for law enforcement.
The guidelines state Twitter “evaluates emergency disclosure requests on a case-by-case basis,” and that they will release information if a situation convinces them “that there is an emergency involving the death or serious physical injury to a person.”
But the guidelines also point out that the release of private information “requires a subpoena or court order.”
Turning identity information over at first request could put Twitter at risk for “potential invasion of privacy,” according to Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties for Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.
Granick said “the law prohibits providers from turning certain information over voluntarily and, if they do, they can be sued. But the government can compel the information from the provider with varying degrees of legal process depending on what the information is. When it's the name associated with the account, the government can get that with just the subpoena.”
This law is part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was passed in 1986. Granick said there are exceptions to the law, particularly if someone is making threats of serious bodily harm or injury to another person. The decision to make an exception to the law, however, is up to the provider.
Twitter users asked the user if they changed their mind about the Broadway theater shooting, but the user replied that they had “last minute plans” in Florida, but they promise it will happen. The user also added that they were “just finishing up” a hit list.
The user makes various references to his or her “hit list,” having added many celebrities such as Ellen Page, Perez Hilton, Wendy Williams, and Kardashian family members to it.