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Anarchist blog boy freed

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After the longest stretch ever served in the joint for refusing to disclose a source, blogger/activist Josh Wolf is a free man.

Wolf spent 226 days, nearly 7 1/2 months, in the Federal Penitentiary in Dublin, California after refusing to testify before a grand jury and withholding footage of a 2005 anarchist rally in San Francisco from federal prosecutors.

The feds supposedly wanted the video and testimony as part of an investigation into events at the rally after a San Francisco policeman suffered a head injury and there was some indeterminate fire damage to a city police car.

California has a reporter shield law that might have protected Wolf, but the feds claimed jurisdiction over the investigation on the thin premise that the car was partially funded by federal money. Federal law contains no reporter shield, so Wolf had no protection against the subpoena.

Wolf has claimed throughout the whole affair that the feds weren't interested in the squad car at all, but really just wanted him to name names about the anarchists and organizations at the rally.

He's had a point, too - the subpoena in question was served on Wolf by a Special Federal Officer of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which suggests that the feds were more interested in having Wolf do their surveillance for them than in actually getting to the bottom of the police car mystery.

Plus, footage of the rally that Wolf sold to local news stations seems to imply that federal agents were at the scene before the events that supposedly conferred jurisdiction on them had even taken place.

Wolf has long argued that the uncut video was not useful as evidence in the investigation and that he mainly wanted to avoid testifying before the grand jury so that he would not have to reveal information regarding his sources or contacts at the rally.

After the deal reached between Wolf and prosecutors on April 3 and his subsequent release, Wolf posted the entire video on his blog. He claims he would have done it sooner, since it had no damaging information in it, but he wanted to retain a bargaining chip in his negotiations with the feds.

Many in the blogosphere are proclaiming Wolf's release a victory for bloggers and journalists, but it is unclear what exactly they have won. The deal entered into the legal record states that Wolf agreed to turn over the video and also answered questions about the rally under oath, which basically gave away the farm since he originally refused to comply with the subpoena specifically to avoid testifying about the rally.

Wolf didn't have to appear before the grand jury, though. He did admit in the deal, however, that the government can still serve him with another grand jury subpoena relating to the events at the rally. If and when the government decides to do that, Wolf still has nothing to protect him from another contempt order and another stay behind bars, and the whole thing could start anew.

So a momentary victory for Josh Wolf it may be, but a Pyrrhic victory at best for bloggers and journalists in the federal legal system.

Still, Wolf did a long stretch in federal prison to protect an ideal, bargained for his freedom with federal prosecutors, and added to the political pressure to create a federal reporter shield law.

That's more than most bloggers did in the past 7 1/2 months. ®

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