Posted by: Kevin | October 7, 2009

FBI Raid for Twitter Activity

Heard this on NPR Monday and wanted to write something about it.  A self described anarchist, Elliot Madison, was arrested in Pittsburgh on September 24th.  On Thursday, October 1st, the FBI raided his apartment in Queens.  His crime was reporting the activity of SWAT teams during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh via Twitter. 

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.”

Mr Madison participated in a group called the Tin Can Comms Collective.  The group gathered information on police movements in the streets and broadcast them on Twitter with messages such as:

“SWAT teams rolling down 5th Ave.”
“Report received that police are ‘nabbing’ anyone that looks like a protester / Black Bloc. Stay alert watch your friends!”

If I had heard this story before 2004 I would have been much more sympathetic to the Police in this instance.  In all likelihood Mr Madison was helping people, who were breaking the law, escape from the police.  However, my view on how the police handle crowd control and protests changed dramatically as a result of the 2004 Republican Convention. 

The New York City police where given leave to take the gloves off and use extraordinary means to curb protests during the convention.  The result was the arrest of ~1700 people.  The vast majority of those people committed no crime.  Take a couple of minutes to read this account of one individuals experience during that mass arrest.  While that may be the most extreme example is isn’t exactly an outlier either. 

I probably wouldn’t care for Mr Madison’s politics, if I ever bothered to learn what they are.  I’m almost certain that I’d disagree with many of the other ways he may choose to practice those politics.  However, what he did in this instance is understandable and a sign of things to come.  The police have demonstrated a willingness to ignore the rights of peaceful protestors and even innocent bystanders.  If it is necessary to evade the police in order to exercise our legal rights then so be it.  What it boils down to is this.  In order to safeguard the right to gather and protest for the best of us, we must defend that right for the worst of us. 

Some additional Stories on the 2004 Republican Convention arrests

Updated:  I had incorrectly reported the date of the FBI raid as Monday the 5th rather than Thrusday the 1st.

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