Elliot Madison, 41, is the subject of an intriguing — and in my view compelling — constitutional fight with both federal and state authorities. A self-described anarchist, Madison was arrested for using Twitter to send messages on the location of police during the G20 protests. Pittsburgh has been accused of excessive measures and this case appears to be one such case.
Madison says that he was arrested because his tweets were assisting people to evade the police. FBI agents executed a search warrant Thursday at his home in Queens and seized computers, political writings, anarchist literature, gas masks and a pound of liquid mercury. The mercury could suggest additional charges are to come.
However, arresting someone for communications based on public observations is an abuse of authority and a violation of the Constitution. The scene is uncomfortably reminiscent of the Chinese police seeking people with pictures of publicly viewed abuses, here. Likewise, the Iranian government arrested bloggers viewed as supporting the protests over the presidential election, here.
This case involves a more sophisticated assault on free speech rights: claiming that the tweets assisted criminal conduct. It is a theory that would gut the first amendment and create a chilling effect on citizen communications. We will see in the days to come if the police offer a different theory for the arrest.
The involvement of the FBI only deepens the concern over the first amendment. Citizens are allowed to share publicly available information, even if it assists people engaged in unlawful protests.
Scenes like the one below are extremely disturbing and show what appears to be an inappropriate response against students who were merely watching the protests: