Guess Twittering about a protest isn’t free speech
As demonstrations have evolved with the help of text messages and online social networks, so too has the response of law enforcement.
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.
Still, Mr. Madison, who was released on bail shortly after his arrest, may be among the first to be charged criminally while sending information electronically to protesters about the police.
A criminal complaint in Pennsylvania accuses him of “directing others, specifically protesters of the G-20 summit, in order to avoid apprehension after a lawful order to disperse.”</em>
Read that line again. After the police told a crowd to disperse, Madison helped them do so. He was arrested for doing the electronic equivalent of shouting to a group “Hey, no cops here. Run this way.” The fact that he typed it, and they read it, changes nothing.
Of course, all such arrests exist for a reason far beyond one protest at one gathering. They exist to keep you too afraid to exercise your rights, nothing else. It’s called a chilling effect.