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New York City police vehicles are seen on February 9, 2020. The NYPD recently cited anti-terrorism legislation in a subpoena seeking a journalist's data from Twitter. (AP/John Minchillo)

NYPD subpoenaed journalist’s Twitter data, citing anti-terrorism law

February 14, 2020 1:05 PM ET

Washington, D.C., February 14, 2020 -- The New York Police Department should not use anti-terror laws in an attempt to access journalists’ data, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On December 9, 2019, the NYPD issued a subpoena to Twitter requesting private data connected to the account of Tina Moore, the bureau chief of police coverage for the New York Post, a local daily, according to a report published yesterday by paper. The police department withdrew the subpoena on February 12 after being contacted by the newspaper’s lawyers, according to that report.

According to a copy of the subpoena posted on the New York Post’s website, the department requested the data under the authority of the USA Patriot Act, a post-9/11 anti-terrorism law.

“Using the Patriot Act to subpoena a journalist’s social media data is not only a gross overstep by the New York Police Department, it is reminiscent of how countries without democratic safeguards use anti-terrorism laws to dampen or retaliate against critical journalism,” said CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch. “Police should respect reporters’ right to keep source information private, rather than subpoenaing tech companies to gain information on journalists and their sources and methods.”

The subpoena requested that Twitter turn over connection logs, the IP address history, and other information concerning Moore’s account from October 9 to 14, 2019.

During that time, Moore tweeted crime scene photos that the New York Post said “appear to be at the center of the NYPD subpoena.”

In an email to CPJ, NYPD spokesperson Sergeant Jessica McRorie said that the department was “conducting an investigation to identify the person who leaked crime scene photos. Tina Moore was never the focus of our investigation.”

McRorie declined to answer questions about the use of the Patriot Act or the press freedom implications of the subpoena.

Ian Plunkett, director of global policy communications at Twitter, told CPJ in an email that, per the company’s legal guidelines, Twitter may notify users of a legal request pertaining to their accounts. He confirmed that Twitter did not comply with the NYPD subpoena.

Anti-terror legislation is used around the world to surveil, jail, and threaten journalists; in 2019, anti-terror legislation was used against journalists in Turkey, India, Russia, Nigeria, and Nicaragua.

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