A Disturbing Subpoena…

Justice Dept. Asked for News Site’s Visitor Lists (CBS News)

…but maybe—hopefully—not a disturbing precedent.

Yes, it’s troubling to think about why the DOJ wanted those visitor logs, but it’s even more disturbing to consider the precedent that would have been set had this subpoena (1) been complied with, and (2) remained secret. The Justice Department had an obvious reason for wanting to keep the subpoena secret even after it had been withdrawn—to prevent future web admins from having something to refer to.

This is an occurrence that would, no doubt, receive widespread attention on the internet if Indymedia or the EFF were allowed to mention it, and the DOJ knew it. Even if it didn’t get widespread media attention, it would still be all over websites like Digg, Reddit, and BoingBoing, where people who care about these issues (and might be subject to a similar subpoena someday) would read about it and learn what their rights would be in the same situation. Thankfully, Indymedia’s EFF lawyer challenged the unofficial gag order and this story became public. It might not prevent the DOJ from attempting to subpoena websites in the future, but now at least site admins have a precedent to rely on.

On a more fun, law school-related note, the EFF attorney objected to procedural defects in his reply to the DOJ, including improper service and the need for a judge-issued court order to obtain the logs. What a great lesson in how the rules of procedure can help or harm you. 😉

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2 Responses to “A Disturbing Subpoena…”


  1. 1 Michael Burke November 12, 2009 at 10:12 am

    I agree that the DOJ’s attempt to prevent Indymedia from disclosing that it had received the subpoena is disturbing. I didn’t find the language of the subpoena itself to be out of line. But I’m not a lawyer. I’m willing to be educated on this point. I’m a little surprised to see this sort of thing happening under the current administration, although I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had happened during the previous administration. Which to me begs the question “has it happened before, and we just don’t know?”

    • 2 Jessica November 12, 2009 at 11:13 am

      Why are you surprised to see it under “this administration?” Obama and his supporters suppressed criticism during the campaign (kicking reporters off his plane, threatening to sic lawyers on critics in Missorui), he voted to continue FISA, he’s attacked Fox News (which sets a dangerous precedent of shutting out media entities the WH doesn’t like), and his campaign promise of transparency has turned out to be a flat-out lie.

      He and his supporters have bullied plenty of critics (figuratively and literally), and given these occurrences, I’m not surprised at all that his DOJ sent out this subpoena and then threatened Indymedia into keeping quiet. It’s classic Chicago politics.


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