Pennsylvania AG Tom Corbett Can't Take Anonymous Twitter Criticism; Issues Subpoenas For IDs

from the let-me-introduce-you-to-the-constitution dept

What is it with various state Attorney Generals and their difficulty in understanding the law? And why is it that those same AGs always seem to be running for higher office when they do? We've already covered how Andrew Cuomo (who wants to be NY's governor) appeared to ignore the law in bullying ISPs. And then there's Richard Blumenthal (who wants to be one of the Senators from Connecticut) who continues to ignore Section 230 safe harbors for Craigslist in grandstanding against the company. Then there was South Carolina's Harry McMaster (who tried to run for governor), who also ignored Section 230 in threatening to put Craigslist execs in jail.

Now we can add to the list Pennsylvania's Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate), Tom Corbett, who apparently is so thin-skinned about people criticizing him, that he's subpoenaed Twitter, demanding it reveal the "name, address, contact information, creation date, creation Internet Protocol address and any and all log in Internet Protocol address" of two anonymous critics who are using both Twitter and Blogger to criticize him.

One would assume that, as Attorney General, Corbett is familiar with the First Amendment. One would also hope that, as Attorney General, Corbett is familiar with the long list of decisions in the caselaw protecting the right of anonymity especially in situations where it involves criticizing a politician. Apparently not. Corbett also appears to be unfamiliar with the basic tenets of The Streisand Effect... and how trying to unmask these critics is only serving to draw significantly more attention to their criticism of him.
How do you get to be Attorney General if you don't even understand the basics of the law? And how do you become a politician if you can't stand people criticizing you?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 11:43am

    looking at the comments noted in the story, at least one of them would appear to be actionable. 'Is it wrong to mix campaign work with taxpayer business' suggest wrongdoing. without backing evidence, it could be a slanderous or libelous statement (depending on what you consider twitter to be, speech or print).

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 11:50am

    What's worse than a politician? A lawyer.
    What's worse than a lawyer? A politician.
    What's worse than both of those put together? Exactly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    DocMenach (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 12:18pm

    Re:

    Sorry Shillonymous, but Libel/Slander of a political figure has a very high threshold. A statement like that would not be actionable at all.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Freedom, May 19th, 2010 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re:

    >> A statement like that would not be actionable at all.

    In addition, you also show that you are willing to waste tax payer money going after a critic.

    Legal justification or not, this violates common sense. It is no different than how the producer of Hurt Locker reacted to a letter - emotional and over the top.

    If someone reacts like this to the small stuff, don't say you didn't have a warning sign of what an a** he was going to be at a higher office. There are always warning signs or key character issues and for some reason we the public choose to ignore them.

    Freedom

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Re:

    where are you a member of the bar, exactly?

     

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  6.  
    icon
    weneedhelp (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 12:37pm

    Im in PA...and sad

    I can only shake my head...and send letters, not that that matters anymore.

    What a pu**y! This country is becoming a bunch of thin skinned pansies. Ohh someone said something bad about me. OMGI have to sue. Wouldnt you think that being a Politician, it would be par for the course, to have ppl disagree with you?

     

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  7.  
    icon
    weneedhelp (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Re: Re:There are always warning signs or key character issues and for some reason we the public choose to ignore them.

    "There are always warning signs or key character issues and for some reason we the public choose to ignore them."

    Couldn't be more true.

    2 of my favorites:
    “Truth will always be truth, regardless of lack of understanding, disbelief or ignorance.”

    "The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling."
    — Robert M. Pirsig

     

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  8.  
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    Bubba Gump (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 12:45pm

    Re:

    It is my understanding that in order for the comments to be slanderous or libelous, they would need to be FALSE.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 12:47pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Are you a member?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 12:50pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    What was that about not debating the person, TAM?

     

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  11.  
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    Mr. Magoo, May 19th, 2010 @ 1:08pm

    This guy's a real space cadet!

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    TPBer, May 19th, 2010 @ 1:14pm

    Don't be so hard..

    He is just a wussy little girl

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 1:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    a, i am not tam (whoever that is) and b, the question is raised because the person made a definitive statement on something that is not that certain. i assume he is a lawyer to make such a bold statement. the correct answer may be 'it is probably not actionable', but making an absolute declaration is not a very good idea. i am hoping the person is a laywer so that we can all profit from their legal advice.
    right mike?

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 1:16pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Illinois

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 1:17pm

    It is possible that some aspects of state election law are involved, in which case the identity of the person behind the comments is appropriate to reveal.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 1:26pm

    in my opinion he is

    YOUR A SACK A PEDOPHILISTIC SACK A DONKEY PISS THAT SHOULD BE FLUSHED DOWN THE SEWER AND THEN PUT ON A SPACE SHUTTLE AND FIRED OFF INTO DEEP SPACE

    WE DONT WANT YOU PARTICLES EMANATING BACK TO US FORM THE SUN

     

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  17.  
    icon
    Paul Stout (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 1:29pm

    I can just imagine what his gubernatorial opponent will do with this in future campaign radio/TV spots.

    In today's political climate, if you don't have a thick skin you can probably count on a rather short political career.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Guest, May 19th, 2010 @ 1:30pm

    Is Mike Masnick a practicing attorney? Or does he just think he knows the law applicable to these cases better than the Attorneys General he's criticizing?

    I'm not commenting on the merits of any of these cases, but it's annoying as hell for a "journalist" to act like he knows the law so well and it's *so obvious* that these Attorneys General are acting contrary to the law.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 1:45pm

    Re:

    mike is a guru. not only does he have an mba, he is also all powerful, knowledgable, and 'has already shown that' he knows pretty much everything about everything. its why he slams the hollywood movie industry, calls them dinosaurs, and then still rents movies from them like a good consumer would.

     

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  20.  
    icon
    Sneeje (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I love it when people try to implicate others for hubris while dripping with their own.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Your laughable pretending that you are not TAM aside, you make "absolute declarations" in 99% of your comments.

    Continue the hypocrisy, TAM.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 2:04pm

    Re:

    Because it's completely impossible for a non-lawyer to understand abuse of law, obviously.

     

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  23.  
    icon
    a-dub (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 2:04pm

    What else would you expect him to do? Engage in illegal activity? I may not agree with certain laws, but I still abide by them.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Spanky, May 19th, 2010 @ 2:13pm

    re

    Well, I was gonna make a serious comment, but it looks like everyone here left for recess.

    i will say, however, that I am an experienced software engineer. This gives me the right to use the computer and comment on this site. If you are NOT an experienced software engineer, you have no right to post here. And don't ever use your computer again.

    I'll be watching...

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 2:17pm

    Re:

    beat me to it!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    PAsshats Y'embarrassus!, May 19th, 2010 @ 2:54pm

    Re: Re:

    Mightn't they also have to be actual statements too? Two of the 3 quotes on TechCrunch are questions...are they not allowed anymore either?

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    b10mtrk, May 19th, 2010 @ 2:58pm

    PA AG Corbett

    At first blush a PA Investigating Grand Jury Subpoena for Twitter account information, two accounts that collectively have, at last count, less than 125 followers, seems foolhardy on many levels. Assuming, of course, this is a nefarious attack on First Amendment rights to critique public officials', AG Corbett specifically, character and suitability to office. Chilling opposition rhetoric going into November elections would be beneficial to a candidate. However, chilling “free speech” should have disastrous election results for Corbett.

    There are possible legitimate motivations, IMHO albeit remote: The Grand Jury is investigating, in some manner, the pending “Bonus Gate” (#bonusgate) prosecutions of some PA Lawmakers and their staffs. Or, not-yet-public information about pending prosecution or investigations is appearing in Tweets or blogs.

    Nevertheless, if this is an attempt to silence opponents; an appropriate November headline “Corbett’s Campaign – Hoisted with its own petard”

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    bubba, May 19th, 2010 @ 3:12pm

    is this the Tom Corbett who raped his daughters?

    the Tom Corbett that made child porn using retarded patients chained up in a state mental hospital? or is this another Tom Corbett I am thinkng of? I guess I could ask my friend Streisand, or just put it out there in the twittersphere and see if any one can help me with this question...

     

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  29.  
    icon
    DocMenach (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 3:35pm

    Re: re

    He obviously isn't an experienced with computers at all. Look, he hasn't even learned how to make capital letters when typing.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    hi mike. why not log on to your own account?

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 4:14pm

    Re: Re:

    The Masnick Sidekick Strikes Again!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    The Groove Tiger (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 4:26pm

    Re:

    Great comment. I have an idea: let's put absolutely everyone who's not a lawyer in jail. Then, if they complain, we can ask them "are you a lawyer?"

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 4:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Hi TAM. Why not log on to your own account?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 6:21pm

    It has been said that the electorate get the representation they deserve. In this case they certainly got it from this incompetent idiot. Thimk before you vote!

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 6:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Because that would be like admitting that they are wrong.

     

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  36.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 7:02pm

    Re:

    Is Mike Masnick a practicing attorney?

    Nope.

    r does he just think he knows the law applicable to these cases better than the Attorneys General he's criticizing?

    Fascinating. Can you point me to the law that says only lawyers are allowed to comment on the law?

    FYI, I was alerted to this story by a practicing lawyer (a rather well known one). I usually run legal questions by a group of lawyers who I know. None of them seemed to have problems with this or call into question my ability to weigh in on this subject.

    You do.. but, oddly, you don't make a single factual point. You just make vague assertions that since I'm not a lawyer I shouldn't be allowed to give an opinion? Fascinating.

    I'm not commenting on the merits of any of these cases, but it's annoying as hell for a "journalist" to act like he knows the law so well and it's *so obvious* that these Attorneys General are acting contrary to the law.

    Aha. In other words, "I have no basis to make these accusations, but I'm going to just toss out an ad hominem because I don't think anyone other than lawyers should be allowed to make statements about the law."

    Lemme guess. You're a lawyer?

     

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  37.  
    icon
    Andrew F (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 9:39pm

    Re:

    Well, I'm only a law student, but based on what I've learned in my first year, two things come to mind.

    (1) There's no liability on Twitter's part because of Section 230.

    (2) There's probably no slander or libel claim that would withstand the First Amendment UNLESS you can show that the anonymous Twitterer is intentionally lying (or recklessly disregarding the truth) -- as opposed to simply being mistaken. (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan). That's hard to show.

     

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  38.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), May 19th, 2010 @ 10:16pm

    Re: Re:

    Well, I'm only a law student, but based on what I've learned in my first year, two things come to mind.


    Doesn't count, according to "Guest." Only practicing lawyers can comment on the law.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2010 @ 10:23pm

    Re:

    Given the choices available in most political races, thinking before voting would result in voting for no one.

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2010 @ 5:18am

    There's one little piece of the puzzle that you guys are missing. Corbett is bringing CRIMINAL charges. So libel/slander is not the issue at hand. Unless they've posted terroristic threats against Corbett, I can't think of any reason a Twitter post would be criminal.

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    abc gum, May 20th, 2010 @ 6:36am

    Re: Re:

    "Shillonymous"

    Crack me up - good one !

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2010 @ 10:37am

    Re: Re:

    "Fascinating. Can you point me to the law that says only lawyers are allowed to comment on the law?"

    Of course not. I never said you should be thrown in jail or subject to liability, just that it's annoying as hell for people who don't really know that much about a topic to act as if they know *more* than those who do.

    You are of course entitled to your opinion, and to share your opinion. That doesn't mean you're entitled to do so without anybody critiquing your standing and/or style of doing so.

    It's just annoying as hell to listen to couch potatoes comment with extreme hubris and supposed authority on how the professional ball players should tweak their arm movement or foot placement--as if it's soooooo obvious. Same goes for viewpoint biased tech bloggers.

    Look, I'm not here to say that these suits are meritorious. I'm here to say that acting like lawsuits and legal matters are *clearly* unmeritorious and only an idiot would think otherwise does a disservice to your readers (and, as I've hit over the head a million times, is hugely annoying).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2010 @ 10:39am

    Re: Re:

    lulz

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2010 @ 10:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Jesus, if you're this bad at misrepresentation in the comments WHEN THE SOURCE IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR READERS, I can only imagine how twisted your representation of facts are when they are a mouse-click away or more.

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2010 @ 6:58pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    According to Shakespeare's Richard III First we kill all the lawyers.... So then no one can comment on the law.

     

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  46.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), May 21st, 2010 @ 2:23am

    Re: Re: Re:

    just that it's annoying as hell for people who don't really know that much about a topic to act as if they know *more* than those who do.

    That implies, falsely, that I don't know much about the topic. I do.

    You are of course entitled to your opinion, and to share your opinion. That doesn't mean you're entitled to do so without anybody critiquing your standing and/or style of doing so.

    Nor did I suggest otherwise. But, normally, if you want anyone to take your criticism seriously, it should have a basis. You even admit that you don't know. You just don't think I should opine because I'm not a lawyer.

    It's just annoying as hell to listen to couch potatoes comment with extreme hubris and supposed authority on how the professional ball players should tweak their arm movement or foot placement--as if it's soooooo obvious. Same goes for viewpoint biased tech bloggers.

    Fascinating. Despite the fact I've been well-versed in these issues, regularly talk to and work with lawyers in the space for well over a decade, you still assume I don't know what I'm talking about... and present not a single shred of evidence to support that point.

    Look, I'm not here to say that these suits are meritorious.

    Um. Ok. That's so convincing.

    Your argument is I shouldn't comment because I don't know what I'm talking about... and you know this because... well, actually you don't. You are admitting you are ignorant of the topic, and you just ASSUME I'm ignorant as well?

    Fascinating. I really hope you're not a practicing lawyer, though I fear you are.

    I'm here to say that acting like lawsuits and legal matters are *clearly* unmeritorious and only an idiot would think otherwise does a disservice to your readers (and, as I've hit over the head a million times, is hugely annoying).

    If it's accurate, it does no such disservice.

    You have yet to prove that it is inaccurate. You have only proven that you have a screwed up sense of what my own expertise is.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    Reads Paper Daily, May 21st, 2010 @ 9:34am

    Re:

    According to today's Philly Inquirer (paper version!), the question isn't so much libel or slander but that the poster CasaBlanca is allegedly someone convicted in a scandal called BonusGate who is...oy...'not showing remorse' about his involvement or conviction in said scandal.

    Still stupid! Corbett's being excoriated on the front page today.

    http://www.philly.com/inquirer/home_top_stories/20100521_Corbett_assailed_over_Twitter_sub poena.html

     

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  48.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2010 @ 11:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Where exactly did I admit that I was ignorant of the topic?

    I'll check back.

    Your credibility as a writer diminishes when you misrepresent your commenters' statements and your own prior comments.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), May 21st, 2010 @ 12:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Where exactly did I admit that I was ignorant of the topic?

    You accused me of not knowing what I was talking about, and then admitting that you had no idea if my comments were accurate or not. Perhaps I'm missing something, but that seems like a straight up admission of ignorance over the point being debated. If you were not ignorant, you would know whether or not my comments were accurate.

    If you are claiming you are not ignorant of the topic, yet you are claiming I should not express my opinion on this subject... but then your refuse to offer a SINGLE SHRED of evidence as to why I'm wrong (other than the tangential claim that I am not a lawyer -- which makes no direct statement on my knowledge of the subject), I'm sorry if it is difficult to take you seriously.

    I do wonder, though, as a lawyer, if any judge lets you get away with such specious arguments in court. "Your honor, I have no evidence why the witness is wrong, but you cannot trust him because I don't like his profession."

    Your credibility as a writer diminishes when you misrepresent your commenters' statements and your own prior comments.

    I misrepresented nothing. Everyone can read your comments and see.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    icon
    Mark Murphy (profile), May 22nd, 2010 @ 9:17am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    To quote from your original comment:

    Is Mike Masnick a practicing attorney?


    While you try to backpedal in your later comments, "a moron in a hurry" would have little trouble detecting the innuendo in the quoted question.

    If you are concerned about people misinterpreting your comments, please consider writing better comments.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2010 @ 4:19am

    So let's get this straight. Being critical of Tom Corbett is proof that someone misused their political power? Who's misusing their power now?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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