October 05, 2009
US anarchist charged with criminal use of a communication facility (Twitter) for aiding G-20 protestors
US Human Rights Violation! Anarchist arrested as criminal for Twitter use to aid G-20 Protestors evade riot-police
By Jacqui Cheng | Last updated October 5, 2009
When deciding how to organize activities of questionable legal nature, it's not always wise to choose a popular and widely available communications medium that even the police know about. When 41-year-old anarchist Elliot Madison got himself arrested in late September, he learned that lesson the hard way. Madison had been found using a police scanner and Twitter to help numerous protesters avoid police during the Group of 20 summit and has now been charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility, and possession of instruments of crime.
Madison was found in a hotel room by Pennsylvania State Police on September 24, armed with police scanners and computers so that he could disperse critical information to protesters. According to the FBI, Madison was "directing others, specifically protesters of the G-20 summit, in order to avoid apprehension after a lawful order to disperse."
Though the FBI says so, it's not entirely clear from the complaint that Madison's tweets were actually illegal. Madison's lawyer told the New York Times on Saturday that he and a friend were merely "part of a communications network among people protesting the G-20." As implied through the Times piece, Madison's tweets merely directed protestors as to where the police were at any given time and to stay alert. "There’s absolutely nothing that he’s done that should subject him to any criminal liability."
No matter: the FBI followed up on Madison's arrest by searching his home late last week for evidence of other violations, such as rioting laws and whatever else they could dig up. Not only did investigators seize his computers, they also took books, clothing, gas masks, and apparently a photo of Lenin. As a self-described anarchist, Madison's affiliations have undoubtedly contributed to police opinion of him and his activities, no matter how benign.
Twitter is increasingly grabbing the attention of law enforcement as both a way to monitor for potential criminal actions but also as a way to try and contact people. The British High Court recently gave the green light for a law firm to send an injunction over Twitter, though the effectiveness of such a method remains to be seen.
In cases like Madison's, it seems one of the only ways he could have avoided arrest would have been to either not tweet at all, or keep his account private and only accessible by approved parties. Still, if the police suspected him of criminal actions, they could have requested access to his tweets and possibly gotten it. Maybe it's time for protest organizers to start moving back to lower-tech, less trackable methods of communication.
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