It would appear that a political activist from New York has been arrested by the FBI in connection with helping orchestrate G20 summit protesters in Pittsburgh. According to The Guardian the man, Eliot Madison from Queens, has been charged with hindering prosecution after helping G20 protesters evade police by using Twitter.
Along with another man, Madison is said to have been tracked by law enforcement agents to a motel room during the summt, where he was found in front of a row of laptops and emergency frequency radio scanners.
The official police documents say that both men were using Twitter in order to "inform the protesters and groups of the movements and actions" of law enforcement during the protests. Of course, it should come as no surprise that Twitter is being used to help organise political protest if, indeed, that were the case in this instance. After all, people Tweeting have a proud and proven track record of providing information during all kinds of political disturbances around the world.
When it is someone using Twitter to report on the movements of police during a rebellion in a hostile nation then it is positively encouraged by the US authorities. However, it appears that when the political unrest is nearer to home (well, right inside the house, as it were) then US authorities are less accommodating of the democracy afforded by such real-time micro-blogging.
During the G20 summit the police were seen to be openly monitoring Twitter feeds so as to be able to listen in on the protesters' communication lines, but this is the first time that I am aware of arrests being made as a result of that monitoring.
If this goes to court, as seems likely, I will be interested to see the defence that Madison puts up. Especially if reports that he is a member of a group called People's Law Collective, which serves to give legal advice to protesters, are true.
The New York Post reports that Madison is also charged with criminal use of a communication facility and possessing criminal instruments.
So, is this a case of the political power of Twitter being challenged right on it's own doorstep? Let me know what you think...
I'm a hacker turned writer and consultant, specialising in IT security. I've been a freelance word punk for over 20 years and along the way I have seen 23 of my books published, produced and presented programmes for TV and radio, picked up a bunch of awards and continue being a contributing editor with PC Pro - the best selling IT magazine in the UK .
There is a difference between what was going on in say, Iran, and what has happened at the recent G20 and at past G20 meetings. The people in Iran are oppressed and want fair representation in government. That is what the American War of Independence is about. In both cases, the people who rebelled first tried to gain freedom and fair representation through the proper channels but were either locked out of the process or ignored.
The protestors at the G20 and other similar summits are anarchists who have not attempted to engage in dialogue. They seek to disrupt by causing mayhem and damage in the hopes of scaring people into not so much listening to them but bending to their will. My brother is an NYPD detective and during the summit and protests a few years ago in Manhattan they Feds and the NYPD succeeded in getting people on the inside of these protest groups and what they discovered was that they were for the most part, college kids whose parents had money and these kids were intent on using the parents money to rebel against the parents. They met in the Plaza and the Hilton in suites charged on their parents credit cards and used their money to enable violent, fringe anarchist groups.
As for this Madison fellow, he was helping people who did not have permits to protest to evade the police while committing crimes. He was aiding and abetting.
As to the political power of Twitter being challenged, I do not think it is that. It will still be a strong tool for people and groups who seek to use it to engage in conversations. What Madison was doing was using the service to be an accessory to a crime.
While I agree with both of you that protests are supposed to be organic activities that happen, I am simply pointing out that even protesting has become something that is regulated. I am not agreeing with it but it is a fact that most municipalities require permits for anytype of public gathering. On the flip side, what many of the 'protestors' are doing is hardly organic when they are holding strategy meetings and being informed of law enforcement movements via their iPhones so that they can escape! Part of the concept of protest is to accept being arrested for civil disobediance to show that you are serious.
But in terms of what has happened at the annual G20 summits and international leadership conferences are less about presenting a point of view and more about open anarchy. So can you really be called a protestor if you are planning to destroy property and incite riots? Normally that is the reaction when a protest is violently suppressed, not when the police are there to make sure that you are able to protest safely.