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Twitter complies with NYPD subpoena in probe of threats against Broadway theater

The Longacre Theatre CBS New York

(CBS) PHILADELPHIA - The social network Twitter is complying with a subpoena from the NYPD to help investigate a user's alleged murder threats aimed at a Broadway theater, CBS This Morning reports.

Twitter was subpoenaed Tuesday as part of an NYPD probe of  threats suggestive of the July 20 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., in which 12 people were killed and dozens wounded.

The NYPD asked Twitter for the identity of the account holder who was making threats against Longacre Theater on Broadway, but the social media network at first denied the request and claimed it didn't fall under the criteria of a serious threat.

Twitter later complied after being subpoenaed by police, and NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told The Associated Press that investigators are using the private user information "as part of our ongoing investigation."

It is a dispute pitting counter-terrorism and security against privacy and free speech.

Twitter wants "to cooperate with law enforcement, but they have to make sure they're respecting their users' privacy, as well," says Larry Cunningham, a former New York City prosecutor.

But he also added that waiting for the subpoena could "absolutely" have been the difference between life and death, "so that's why Twitter has an exception, which is they won't wait for the court order if they have a good faith belief someone's life is in danger. ... They're really between a rock and a hard place."

Security was boosted outside Longacre Theater after the profanity-laden threats of mass murder were made on Twitter, starting late last week. Police said the threats appeared aimed at the audience attending former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson's one-man show.

Among the tweets: "i'm serious, people are gonna die like aurora."

Also: "gosh i'm still making this hit list damn i wanna kill a lot of people."

Twitter reports that it complies with 75 percent of requests made by law enforcement in the U.S. without a subpoena. The company determined that this case didn't initially warrant disclosing private user information to police without a court order.

Twitter directed CBS News to its guidelines for law enforcement, which say, "If we receive information ... that there is an emergency involving the death or serious physical injury to a person, we may provide information necessary to prevent that harm."

Joel Reidenberg, an expert in Internet law at Fordham University in New York City, says, "The First Amendment protects us speaking anonymously, but the First Amendment does not protect us screaming 'fire' in a crowded theater."

More on Crimesider
Aug. 7, 2012 - Twitter to get NYPD subpoena after user threats against Broadway theater discovered

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