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Judge Keeps Twitter Case Records Sealed

This article is more than 11 years old.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge is keeping all records under wraps related to a subpoena for Twitter account information of some Occupy Boston supporters.

The Suffolk County district attorney’s office has sent Twitter an administrative subpoena for a few individual accounts and for all subscribers who used two group names or hashtags around the time of the Occupy Boston raid earlier this month.

ACLU attorney Peter Krupp asked the judge to block the request, saying it violates free speech rights.

"A grand jury subpoena has certain protections; a grand jury has to decide whether to issue it," Krupp said. "A search warrant has certain protections; a judge has to decide whether to issue it. An administrative subpoena has none of those protections and that’s one of the reasons why we challenged this particular subpoena in this particular situation."

Suffolk county DA spokesman Jake Wark said this subpoena is no threat to free speech. "We investigate and prosecute discrete criminal acts. We don’t prosecute political speech," Wark said, and then after a pause, "period."

Wark won’t say what criminal act the Twitter account information may reveal. But other law enforcement sources say the subpoena may be an attempt to find out who distributed personal information about Boston police officers during the Occupy Boston raid.

Twitter has not said if it is cooperating with the DA’s investigation, but it did alert at least one member about the DA’s request. Guido Fawkes, who uses the Twitter handle @p0isAn0N, said in a statement, "You cannot arrest an idea. You cannot subpoena an idea."

The ACLU is considering whether to appeal Judge Carol Ball's decision to seal documents in this case. ACLU's executive director said, "Secret court proceedings, particularly proceedings involving First Amendment issues, are troubling as a matter of both law and democracy."

We requested a response from the court but do not have one yet.

Update at 7 p.m.:

Joan Kenney, a court spokeswoman, emailed this statement regarding the sealed documents:

Judge Ball determined that the subpoena was issued in connection with an ongoing criminal and pending grand jury investigation. Grand jury matters are routinely handled confidentially by the court and documents and pleadings are impounded. In this case, the matters which have been released to the public were not released by the court.

Judge Ball stayed her decision for 10 days to allow the parties to seek appellate court review.

This article was originally published on December 29, 2011.

This program aired on December 29, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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