US Attorneys Fishing For Tons Of Info On Anonymous Commenters

These comment posters are not reporters; they have no shield law protection, especially since Congress has yet to pass the pending federal shield law. A grand jury can subpoena just about anyone for any reason.

Michael Scott points us to the fact that US Attorneys have requested data on anonymous commenters who commented on an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. From the description, it sounds like the feds are fishing for a lot more than they should be allowed to get. The subpoena requested:

"full name, date of birth, physical address, gender, ZIP code, password prompts, security questions, telephone numbers and other identifiers ... the IP address," of everyone who commented
Seem a bit excessive? It's not entirely clear what the feds are fishing for, but one indicator? Some of the comments were quite critical of (you guessed it) a federal prosecutor. As Thomas Mitchell, the editor of the Review-Journal notes:


But what time, effort and tax-funded expenses are being expended by the U.S. attorney's office to track down a bunch of posturing blowhards squandering their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination?

What the prosecutors don't appear to understand is that we don't have most of what they are seeking. We don't require registration. A person could use a fictitious name and e-mail address, and most do. We have no addresses or phone numbers.

To add prior restraint to the chilling effect of the sweeping subpoena, we were warned: "You have no obligation of secrecy concerning this subpoena; however, any such disclosure could obstruct and impede an ongoing criminal investigation. ..."

We've been seeing a lot of similar stories lately -- with gov't officials getting upset at what's being said about them online, and pushing the (or crossing) the boundaries of the law in order to try to find out who is behind those comments.

http://techdirt.com/articles/20090610/1638515191.shtml