On Thursday, F.B.I. agents descended on a house in Jackson Heights, Queens, and spent 16 hours searching it. The most likely reason for the raid: a man who lived there had helped coordinate communications among protesters at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh.
The man, Elliot Madison, 41, a social worker who has described himself as an anarchist, had been arrested in Pittsburgh on Sept. 24 and charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime. The Pennsylvania State Police said he was found in a hotel room with computers and police scanners while using the social-networking site Twitter to spread information about police movements. He has denied wrongdoing.
The charges against them are hindering prosecution, possessing criminal instruments, and something about running an illegal communication facility. In order for the last two charges to stand hinges on proving they actually did anything illegal/criminal in the first place.
For the charge of hindering prosecution to stand, the prosecutor/cops must show that they were sending messages specifically to individuals as they were engaged in illegal/criminal acts, and with the specific intent of aiding them to evade arrest, not simply to avoid areas where police activity was occurring as the police were issuing the same messages for the general populace to avoid those areas as well. In other words, it is illegal to tell someone who just committed a crime how to evade police by telling them where police are, it is not illegal to tell someone who did NOT just commit a crime how to evade police by telling them where police are.
However, Twitter is a one-way street where text messages are sent out and aggregated by whoever wants to read them. You can make a feed private, but ultimately it is a feed, not a direct, private line of communication like a cell phone.
Second, re-broadcasting already public information on the whereabouts and actions of police does not itself constitute hindering prosecution – a live broadcast from CNN on the scene would also fit this description. Reporters tweeting about stories would also fit.
Third, the arrests occurred hours before the bulk of the alleged criminal acts took place anyway.
The police did this, yet again, to prevent the defendants from using Twitter to aid protests, not to prosecute after a crime has been committed. Police intent was to make sure that people exercising dissent were controlled, and anything impeding this control was seen as a threat. These were preventive arrests justified after the fact, with a “raid” to intimidate or fish for evidence of anything else, judging by the wide array of materials seized.
This case will be settled or thrown out. Judging from the defendants, they will have good lawyers and will eventually win a civil settlement from the city.
But no, it is not necessarily hypocrisy to promote dissent via Twitter in one country and then to suppress it in your own. In fact, it makes perfect sense and is completely not surprising. Next, maybe the protesters will use HTTP tunneling via proxies to avoid detection.
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