A bit mysterious, a lot of curious.
It was revealed earlier that the FBI sought internet logs of people who accessed a news story on USA Today. Not just those it suspected of a crime, but all people who simply clicked on a news link during a 35-minute window on the evening of February 2.
Earlier that day, two FBI agents were serving a warrant at a Florida apartment as part of a child-pornography investigation when they were shot and killed by David Lee Huber who then turned the gun on himself. The gunfire and ensuing law enforcement operation happened about 6 am. Soon, news of the tragic killings was splashed across all news outlets, including USA Today. There was a specific period of time the FBI had specific interest about.
The FBI stated that the subpoena for information on readers who accessed the piece between 8.03pm and 8.38pm “relates to a federal criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI” but did not elaborate on why the data was requested.
But on 28 May representatives for Gannett filed a movement to quash the subpoena in the US District Court in Washington, claiming that the bureau’s request violated the media’s and the readers’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. The filing was made public on Wednesday.
To its credit, USA Today is rebuking this request. Does the FBI shakedown every newsboy for each person who gave him a quarter for the newspaper during the morning downtown rush? (That was an incredibly rhetorical question). It’s only because the technology exists to examine the private behavior of a wide swath of largely innocent people that this pushes the envelope of acceptability.
[Gannett] Legal representatives Charles Tobin and Maxwell Mishkin wrote: “A government demand for records that would identify specific individuals who read specific expressive materials, like the Subpoena at issue here, invades the First Amendment rights of both publisher and reader, and must be quashed accordingly.”
They added that the “unconstitutional demand … failed to demonstrate compliance with the United States Attorney General’s regulations for subpoenas to the press.”
We loved technology because it simplified our life and freed our hands of hard, repetitive toil. We loved technology because it gave us more time to waste and squander. If technology ended there, we might have been better off. But technological advance is exponential; it builds upon itself and each generation of technological invention spurs on accelerated technological innovation. The primordial technology of washing machines rapidly became the technology of internet of everything and you now have the ability to control your washing machine from anywhere.
We love technology as it is rapidly spun on ourselves in an intrusive web that deprives us of autonomy and liberty.
And police forces use technology to proliferate their investigations and intrusion.
They couldn’t ask the newsboy to name who bought each newspaper, but the ability to define each user who clicked a news link is well within our capability. The FBI, all law enforcement organs, will not cease and desist this speculative curiosity. They will push and push.
The lawyers also quoted a Supreme Court ruling that read: “Once the government can demand of a publisher the names of the purchasers of his publications, the free press as we know it disappears.”
In a statement, Maribel Perez Wadsworth, the publisher of USA Today and president of the USA Today Network, said: “We intend to fight the subpoena’s demand for identifying information about individuals who viewed the USA Today news report. Being forced to tell the government who reads what on our websites is a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
We’re racing toward an impending court ruling, one that has been greased by the Overton Window, which will grant law enforcement the right to tail us throughout every internet step we make. It’s for the children; children are the greatest pathway to government intrusion of all.
Not sure why the FBI needs to go through this routine. I’m surprised they can’t get this info in a myriad of other manners. If they are flushing out an alibi, they can get a focused warrant for one person’s online behavior. Why are they studying a group of innocent people to find one who they…what?
How long before the Feds began battering down the doors of bloggers or bulletin boards with similar requests?
(Updated 6/6/21 0642 PDT)