New Jersey police do not need a wiretap warrant to view private messages sent on Twitter, an appeals court found earlier this month. On February 3, 2017, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of Essex County prosecutors who attempted to access video posts from two Twitter profiles.
The crux of the case was an argument over the type of warrant needed to view private Twitter messages. A communications warrant is required to access voicemail message while a wiretapping warrant, which is has tougher legal requirements, is needed to listen to ongoing telephone conversations.
Defense attorneys insisted that because many Twitter conversations happen in real time, police should only be able to see them if they get a wiretap. Prosecutors argued that Twitter messages only required a communications warrant as data sent through social media has already been transmitted, much like a voicemail. The court sided with the prosecutors and ruled that only a communications warrant is required to access Twitter messages.
A spokesman for Twitter declined to comment but noted that the company requires a court order to disclose private information to authorities, and that it alerts users about these disclosures when it is legally able to. The company also said it stores some data for a limited period of time and that it publishes annual transparency reports listing all such requests from law enforcement agencies.
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