Crime-Facilitating Speech and Reporting Police Movements

Several readers have pointed me to this New York Times article:

Elliot Madison, 41, a social worker who has described himself as an anarchist, [was] arrested in Pittsburgh on Sept. 24 and charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime. The Pennsylvania State Police said he was found in a hotel room with computers and police scanners while using the social-networking site Twitter to spread information about police movements. He has denied wrongdoing….

A criminal complaint … accuses him of “directing others, specifically protesters of the G-20 summit, in order to avoid apprehension after a lawful order to disperse.” …

After Mr. Madison’s arrest, other Tin Can participants continued to send messages, now archived on Twitter’s Web site. Many of those messages tracked police movements. One read: “SWAT teams rolling down 5th Ave.” Another read: “Report received that police are ‘nabbing’ anyone that looks like a protester / Black Bloc. Stay alert watch your friends!” …

This might well be a special case of a tough constitutional issue, which I discussed at some length in my Crime-Facilitating Speech article: When may speech be restricted because it provides others with information that may help them commit crimes, here by helping them evade arrest? Consider a driver who flashes his lights to warn other drivers of a speed trip, or articles, books, or Web pages that describe

  • how people can effectively resist arrest during civil disobedience,
  • how easy it is to fool supposed “ballistic fingerprinting” systems,
  • how easy it is to fool fingerprint recognition systems,
  • how one can organize one’s tax return to minimize the risk of a tax audit,
  • how one can share music files while minimizing the risk of being sued as an infringer,
  • how one can more effectively conceal one’s sexual abuse of children,
  • how one can more effectively encrypt messages or files,
  • how one can build a bomb,
  • how one can grow marijuana,

and so on. (I have citations for many of these examples in the article.) A very interesting set of questions, I think, which the Court has never resolved.