US feds subpoena names of anonymous web commenters
Should have hired a Moderatrix
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. ®
...hardly bloody death treats. If they are, and we are obliged to prevent them, then we may have no choice but to just turn the whole internet off - just one hour of YouTube comments could jam up the legal system for years!
@AB re:camping out
Although my comments were somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I would certainly not consider it outside the realm of possibility for the current administration to institute extreme measures to quell dissidents. Obama has demonstrated time and again that he has absolutely no tolerance for criticism. He has demonstrated a complete disregard for the Constitution. He has lied to the American people repeatedly. He is a product of what is probably the most corrupt political environment in the history of the Republic. His ideals bear far closer resemblance to those of Mussolini and Hitler than to those of Tom Jefferson or Tom Paine. His assault on Culture and Class may well instigate the beginning of the Second American Civil War. He has thumbed his nose or outright given the finger to traditional American allies while visiting and consorting with despots and dictators, all the while apologizing for being an American. No act of barbarism he might commit would surprise me in the least.
> I expect to be one of the first scheduled to be sent to the "Political Reeducation Camps" that will no doubt soon be opening up.
Really? *Really?!* Do you actually think this is going to happen, or are you just here for our amusement? It's statements like the one you've just made that cause the rest of the world to equate American conservatism with an urgent requirement for coats which buckle at the back, which isn't totally fair as not every conservative is completely without a link to reality.
Having said that, I don't understand why the feds are going after these posters - as others have pointed out, they're not great death threats, and comments of that type are hardly exclusive to the LVRJ.