A Curious Subpoena
Posted 11/10/2009 07:36 PM ET
Big Brother: The Justice Department wants an online news site to hand over its visitor list. Why? No one's quite sure yet. But if this is just a fishing expedition by the government, it's a troubling precedent.
The unusual request for information, delivered via a grand jury subpoena to Philadelphia-based Indymedia.us, also demanded that the Web site "not ... disclose the existence of this request," unless the Justice Department approves it.
For those who don't know, Indymedia is a far-left news aggregation site run by the Independent Media Center, not exactly known for its moderation either in content or tone.
That said, we wonder what could be behind such a sweeping government attempt to search a journalistic organization's files?
According to new reports, the subpoena from U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis sought "all IP traffic to and from" the Web site for the day of June 25, 2008.
It went much deeper than that, however. It also sought Internet addresses and "any other identifying information" of those who contacted the Web site — including e-mail addresses, home addresses, online accounts, Social Security numbers, and bank account and credit card numbers. So much for privacy.
The subpoena, we're told, has since been withdrawn. Someone, perhaps Morrison, had second thoughts. Still, the sweeping nature of the requests and the threat to prosecute Indymedia if it so much as revealed even the existence of the subpoena raises questions.
To begin with, this is a form of prior restraint — something not permitted under our Constitution, at least not in ordinary times.
Moreover, the Justice Department claims Attorney General Eric Holder didn't see the subpoena — even though it's normal procedure for the top Justice official to approve any subpoena issued to the media. If Holder didn't see it, why didn't he? And if he did, did he think it was OK to bully a news organization like this?
While we're at it, isn't this a bit hypocritical coming from the same administration that harshly criticized President Bush for the trampling of Americans' rights by the Patriot Act and by the wiretapping of foreign terror suspects?
What most concerns us is that this fishing expedition against a left-leaning publication, now rescinded, may have been a test. Maybe it's a prelude to aggressive action later against those in the media who strongly oppose the policies of this administration.
This administration has already shown a strong preference for tough-guy, Chicago-style tactics against its foes, both real and imagined. Who'll be next? Conservative and libertarian bloggers? Rush Limbaugh? Fox News? IBD?
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