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Prosecution by Twitter: Texas DA Tweets Case Details

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, February 17 2010

Credit: Twitter/Brett Ligon

It's been widely reported that the District Attorney of Montgomery County Texas, Brett Ligon, is using Twitter to post the names of people arrested for Driving Under the Influence offenses. (via OhMyGov!) And indeed, Ligon, who was elected Montgomery County DA in 2008 as a Republican in an uncontested general election, is doing just that. For example:

No Refusal DWI 1st Charge filed in CCCL 5 on Christopher T_____ in cause number 09-255064.

(We've blanked out the last names of the involved parties. Ligon, though, is posting the particulars, to be sure.)

But Ligon is going beyond tweeting simply the details of those alleged to have put their fellow drivers at risk. He's also posting on Twitter notes about other cases pursued by his office, such as:

Luke W_____ gets 60 years prison from jury for Assasult-Domestic Violence in Judge Hamilton's court. Prosecutor: Nicole C_____

These are public records. Open government advocates often make the case that transparency in the 21st century requires posting things online, not simply making documents "available to the public" by sticking them in a filing cabinet in some courthouse. But that's powerful because the flip-side is also true: public records posted online assume a new level of availability and ubiquity.

Ligon, or @MontgomeryTXDAO, has only 673 Twitter followers. But as others have mention, the growing presence of real-time search through Google, Bing, and other tools changes that equation. Twitter search results on a person's name, for example, now routinely pop up as some of the first items returned in a Google search.

Ligon's use of Twitter in this case raises the question, you can use social media to share information more broadly, but should you?

Here's a fun fact turned up by a Google search. Ligon happens to be the original prosecutor in the original 1998 Lawrence v. Texas case that sought to punish two men for having consensual sex inside one of the men's own home. You see, Google never forgets.