Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Police raid Twitter user's home to find out who posted anti-mayoral tweets

Takeaway ... take care what you post on Twitter? The government is watching.

A mayor in Peoria, Ill., who reportedly ordered police to raid the home of a Twitter user who sent out 50 or so parody tweets that painted the politico in a poor light -- mocking that he used drugs and hung with prostitutes -- is now facing a First Amendment backlash.

"I find it very troubling," said Angela Campbell, a professor at Georgetown University Law School, in Fox News. "It chills people's First Amendment rights to criticize officials … whether it's through parody or just calling somebody a jerk."

Meanwhile, Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School on the end other of the continent, in Los Angeles, said similarly: "This absolutely raises concerns from me. Under the Constitution, you can criticize people in power. It's how you can tell the difference between a democracy and a police state. And you can do it through humor," Fox News reported.

Their comments focus on recent actions of Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis and his local police force.

A Twitter user created an account named @Peoriamayor about nine weeks ago, and subsequently sent out dozens of tweets about the mayor, parody style. Twitter suspended the account in mid-March, Fox News reported.

About a week before its suspension, the account was actually labeled a parody account. But police -- reportedly acting under the order of Mr. Ardis -- issued a warrant against the suspected Twitter parody poster and raided the suspect's home, the Star Journal of Peoria reported. The accusation was that the suspect, who is not named in the report, was actually unlawfully trying to impersonate a public official.

One resident at the home told the local newspaper that police seized the suspect's computers and smart phones to try and determine the name of the Twitter account holder, Fox News reported. Police also reportedly brought three people who were at the home during the raid down to the station for questioning. Two others who live in the home were contacted in person by police at their places of work and taken to the station for interrogation, Fox News reported.

A Peoria Police Department official later told Fox News that one of the residents was arrested for possession of marijuana.

Still, First Amendment legal minds say the execution of a search warrant for a Twitter post is troubling. Ms. Campbell said the charge of unlawfully impersonating a public official -- which is only a misdemeanor anyway, that carries a maximum $2,500 fine and one year in jail -- doesn't even seem to apply in this case. That law, she said, to Fox News, is aimed more at keeping people from impersonating police officers.

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