August 10, 2023

US court fines Twitter $350k for not releasing Trump’s data

X social media platform to collect biometric, employment data

An appellate court in the United States, Wednesday, fined Elon Musk’s social media company, X, formerly known as Twitter, the sum of $350,000 for noncompliance with a court-ordered warrant regarding former President Donald Trump’s social media account.

The 34-page opinion by a three-judge panel with the US Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. disclosed that special counsel Jack Smith obtained a search warrant for Trump’s Twitter account in January, according to the Washington Post.

The warrant was regarding the ongoing criminal investigation regarding events from the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot and the peaceful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election won by Joe Biden.

The documents spelled out the details of the directives handed down to Twitter by the court.

“The district court issued a search warrant in a criminal case, directing appellant Twitter, Inc. (‘Twitter’) to produce information to the government related to the Twitter account ‘@realDonaldTrump,'” according to the opinion.

“The search warrant was served along with a nondisclosure order that prohibited Twitter from notifying anyone about the existence or contents of the warrant.”

The findings showed that the company “delayed production of the materials required by the search warrant” and did not hand them over on time.

“Although Twitter ultimately complied with the warrant, the company did not fully produce the requested information until three days after a court-ordered deadline,” according to the panel. 

“The district court thus held Twitter in contempt and imposed a $350,000 sanction for its delay.”

Twitter argued in its appeal that the nondisclosure order violated the First Amendment and the Stored Communications Act, that the district court should have stayed its enforcement of the search warrant until after Twitter’s objections to the nondisclosure order were resolved, and that the district court abused its discretion by holding Twitter in contempt and imposing the sanction.

But, the Washington Post said that the judges rejected Twitter’s arguments.

“We affirm the district court’s rulings in all respects. The district court properly rejected Twitter’s First Amendment challenge to the nondisclosure order,” said the panel, which reiterated that the court “did not abuse its discretion.”

“The district court followed the appropriate procedures before finding Twitter in contempt of court – including giving Twitter an opportunity to be heard and a chance to purge its contempt to avoid sanctions,” it said.