Feeds

US feds subpoena names of anonymous web commenters

Should have hired a Moderatrix

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

The all-too-typical violent hyperbole found in reader comments across the internet has landed one Las Vegas newspaper in the hot seat with US prosecutors.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal says it has been served with a federal grand jury subpoena seeking information on people who posted supposedly threatening anonymous comments on a story about a tax fraud trial.

According to LVRJ, the subpoena seeks the identities and contact information of those who made certain posts prosecutors believe allude to acts of violence against the jury and others involved with the case.

In late May, the paper reported on the trial of Robert Kahre, a man accused of paying contractors with gold and silver coinage so he could report their lower face value to the IRS for tax purposes. On the paper's website, the story rather characteristically received hundreds of angry comments condemning the IRS, the court system, the US treasury, paper money, public schools, communists — what have you.

But two posts in particular caught the eye of the US Attorney for Nevada;

"The sad thing is there are 12 dummies on the jury who will convict him. They should be hung along with the feds," posted one of the offending commenters.

Another wagered "quatloos" (an alien currency from Star Trek) that one of the federal prosecutors wouldn't live to see his next birthday.

(Both comments have been removed from the website).

The paper originally received a subpoena on June 2 demanding the identities of every commenter on the article. LVRJ editor Thomas Mitchell declared he would fight the request, saying anonymous speech is "a fundamental and historic part of this country."

Before he could launch a protest, however, federal prosecutors decided their original request was overly broad. Instead, they narrowed their request to the two comments.

Mitchell now says he will comply with the subpoena.

"I'd hate to be the guy who refused to tell the feds Timothy McVeigh was buying fertilizer," Mitchell was quoted by the LVRJ, referring to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of a downtown federal building.

"We want to be good citizens and do the proper thing," Mitchell continued. "We will give them what we have, which frankly isn't much, since most postings are anonymous."

Meanwhile, The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada believes the narrowed request is still unreasonable.

"We don't think any of the comments we've seen are the appropriate target of government inquiry," ALCU staff attorney Margaret McLethie told the paper. Although the organization admitted it hasn't seen the comment that bets on a prosecutors death, it has moved forward with its own motion to quash the subpoena and offered to represent any of the commenters who want their help. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
MI6 oversight report on Lee Rigby murder: US web giants offer 'safe haven for TERRORISM'
PM urged to 'prioritise issue' after Facebook hindsight find
Assange™ slumps back on Ecuador's sofa after detention appeal binned
Swedish court rules there's 'great risk' WikiLeaker will dodge prosecution
NSA mass spying reform KILLED by US Senators
Democrats needed just TWO more votes to keep alive bill reining in some surveillance
'Internet Freedom Panel' to keep web overlord ICANN out of Russian hands – new proposal
Come back with our internet! cries Republican drawing up bill
What a Mesa: Apple vows to re-use titsup GT sapphire glass plant
Commits to American manufacturing ... of secret tech
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Go beyond APM with real-time IT operations analytics
How IT operations teams can harness the wealth of wire data already flowing through their environment for real-time operational intelligence.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?