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How Your Twitter Account Could Land You in Jail

Anything you tweet could be used against you.

by Matthew Power

On the afternoon of September 24, 2009, Pennsylvania State Troopers, their guns drawn, broke down the door of room 238 of the CareFree Inn on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. The troopers were acting on a search warrant related to protests planned for the G20 summit-a meeting of the heads of state of the world's major economies. Thousands of protesters had descended on the city, presenting demands ranging from curbs on carbon emissions to the outright abolition of capitalism.

Anticipating hordes of black-masked, Starbucks-smashing anarchists, the Pittsburgh police and the Secret Service coordinated nearly 4,000 law enforcement officers, outfitting them with the latest in riot-dispersal technology. Crowds marching on the summit were met with pepper spray, stun grenades, and-for the first time on US soil-acoustic cannons that blast painful sounds as far as 1,000 feet. But the protesters had their own crowd-control methods, and that's what had brought the state troopers to the CareFree Inn.

What they found when they broke down the door were a couple of middle-aged housemates from Queens, New York. Elliott Madison sat at a desk with a laptop and a cell phone. A police scanner lay nearby. Michael Wallschlaeger was at the minifridge grabbing some hummus when the police rushed in. According to the criminal complaint filed against them, the two men had been "communicating with various protestors, and protest groups...[via] internet based communications, more commonly known as 'Twitter'. The observed 'Twitter' communications were noted to be relevant to the direction of the movement of the Protestors...in order to avoid apprehension..."

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