A social worker from New York City was arrested last week while in Pittsburgh for the G-20 protests, then subjected to an FBI raid this week at home -- all for using Twitter. Elliot Madison faces charges of hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime. He was posting to a Twitter feed (or tweeting, as it is called) publicly available information about police activities around the G-20 protests, including information about where police had issued orders to disperse.
The U.S. State Department, impressed with the importance of Twitter to Iranian protests, asked Twitter to delay system maintenance that might have interrupted the service during the Iranian protests.
While Madison optimistically mused, "I'm expecting the State Department will come out and support us also," his lawyer, respected civil rights attorney Martin Stolar, said: "This is just unbelievable. It is the thinnest, silliest case that I've ever seen. It tends to criminalize support services for people who are involved in lawful protest activity. And it's just shocking that somebody could be arrested for essentially walking next to somebody and saying: 'Hey, don't go down that street, because the police have issued an order to disperse. Stay away from there.'"
One Iranian twitterer for the virtual news hub Tehran Bureau recalled the June protests in an essay: "An officer spoke to us through a loud speaker: 'Disperse: This is your last warning.' The sight of them made my knees tremble, but the wave pushed on and so I went along." He was beaten, bloodied, arrested and held for 20 days. While Elliot Madison was not physically harmed, his legal battles are just beginning, and his case could prove central to the future of free speech in the mobile, digital age.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
From Amy Goodman's latest in the Oregonian: