Lawyer for G-20 Twittering Suspect Says Info Was Already Public

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Washington, DC—According to the attorney for a man arrested last month for distributing police whereabouts via Twitter, in order to help protesters at the G-20 summit avoid arrest, his client was only disseminating information that had already been made public by the police themselves.

Police apprehended Michael Wallschlaeger and Elliot Madison after learning that they had been sending out messages via Twitter, the online social networking tool, to “inform the protesters and groups and the movements and actions of law enforcement…in order to avoid apprehension,” according to a criminal complaint against the men. When arrested, in a hotel room about 10 miles outside of Pittsburgh, where the global summit was being held, the men were equipped with police scanners, headphones, microphones, detailed maps of the city, and computers.

On the first day of the G-20 summit, which organized leaders from the 20 most powerful nations in the world, hundreds of protesters marched through suburban Pittsburgh without a permit. In a suburb called Lawrenceville, two miles from downtown Pittsburgh, the protesters were met by police in riot gear, who used pepper spray and ear-splitting sound trucks to break up the crowds of activists. They also made dozens of arrests, and a total of 83 people were arrested in connection with protesting the summit over its three-day duration.

At issue in the arrest of Wallschlaeger and Madison is the idea of whether Twitter, texting and other communication-related technologies are media of free speech, or if they simply make it easier to evade the law undetected. Attorney Martin R. Stolar says that since the police had already posted on the Internet their location, “I don’t see any way that you can criminalize passing on information that the police have put out publicly.”

The two men were arrested and charged with hindering apprehension, criminal use of a communication facility and possessing criminal instruments. Both men, who describe themselves as anarchists, have been released on bail. The FBI raided one of their homes last week, and after a 16-hour search of the property, they confiscated cameras, computers and hard drives, in addition to gas masks, a slingshot, chemistry equipment, MP3 players, and posters of Marx and Lenin. Stolar filed a motion the next day demanding the return of many of these items, which he says are irrelevant to the investigation.

Twitter and other communication services have come under fire for aiding people in other situations to potentially break the law or evade arrest. A notable example is when motorists are alerted via “tweet,” which is the term for a 140-character Twitter message, that a certain section of highway is a speed trap being manned by state troopers or other law enforcement officers looking for speeders, and should be avoided.

 

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