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...