US Attorneys Fishing For Tons Of Info On Anonymous Commenters

from the isn't-that-a-bit-much? dept

Michael Scott points us to the fact that US Attorneys have requested data on anonymous commenters who commented on an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. From the description, it sounds like the feds are fishing for a lot more than they should be allowed to get. The subpoena requested:

“full name, date of birth, physical address, gender, ZIP code, password prompts, security questions, telephone numbers and other identifiers … the IP address,” of everyone who commented

Seem a bit excessive? It’s not entirely clear what the feds are fishing for, but one indicator? Some of the comments were quite critical of (you guessed it) a federal prosecutor. As Thomas Mitchell, the editor of the Review-Journal notes:

These comment posters are not reporters; they have no shield law protection, especially since Congress has yet to pass the pending federal shield law. A grand jury can subpoena just about anyone for any reason.

But what time, effort and tax-funded expenses are being expended by the U.S. attorney’s office to track down a bunch of posturing blowhards squandering their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination?

….

What the prosecutors don’t appear to understand is that we don’t have most of what they are seeking. We don’t require registration. A person could use a fictitious name and e-mail address, and most do. We have no addresses or phone numbers.

To add prior restraint to the chilling effect of the sweeping subpoena, we were warned: “You have no obligation of secrecy concerning this subpoena; however, any such disclosure could obstruct and impede an ongoing criminal investigation. …”

We’ve been seeing a lot of similar stories lately — with gov’t officials getting upset at what’s being said about them online, and pushing the (or crossing) the boundaries of the law in order to try to find out who is behind those comments.

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Comments on “US Attorneys Fishing For Tons Of Info On Anonymous Commenters”

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41 Comments
zellamayzao says:

Re: goverment bites

If they did a good job in their elected position, instead of worrying about all the negative press out there (professional or not) then maybe someone would have a positive thing to say every now and again. Instead they take advantage of all the power they have thinking they can invade people’s lives if they say something about them they don’t like. Boo Hoo. grow up and do a better job.

This is America for *insert religious figures name here* sake. We should be able to say whatever we want be it good or bad about the morons running this country, Democrat or Republican. They are no better than us. Let me remind you who put you there….the people you claim to serve and trying to lock up for speaking their minds. This is not China. You shouldn’t look to shut out people who speak their minds.

1DandyTroll says:

There are no shield laws, no more

‘These comment posters are not reporters; they have no shield law protection, especially since Congress has yet to pass the pending federal shield law.’

Oh, what fools people are, thinking the constitution actually adhered to communicating via the Internet, and thus function as a shield law.

Ah, but no, who can imagined a liberal constitution functioning as a sheild law for free speech, in a communist country?

Anonymous Coward says:

This is the case where the swat team destroyed security cameras in an attempt to hide their actions. They also destroyed the footage but they didn’t realize that there was a backup recording the event and that backup held up in court.

http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2007/Mar-21-Wed-2007/news/13248652.html

Here is the video footage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VJ3son-ha8

Conspiracies do happen. In this specific situation they got caught but the fact that it has gone so far in this video suggests that these people have done this before.

Anonymous Coward says:

What is the official policy of techdirt on this?

Mike,

So what is the official policy of techdirt on this? Do you store/keep IP logs? Will you turn them over if asked?

What about registered accounts? Will you turn that info over?

Please let us all know where you stand so we can know where we stand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What is the official policy of techdirt on this?

What about registered accounts? Will you turn that info over?

Yeah, I’ve noticed that Techdirt doesn’t seem to have a published privacy policy. I think it’s safe to assume that Techdirt builds a dossier on every registered account and will probably turn that over to whoever they want to. Registered = Sucker.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: What is the official policy of techdirt on this?

So what is the official policy of techdirt on this? Do you store/keep IP logs? Will you turn them over if asked?

Our official privacy policy is here:

https://www.insightcommunity.com/privacy.php

We will only turn over such info as a last resort if legally required to do so. However, it should be no surprise that we fight any attempts to have us hand over such info (to date, successfully).

Dan says:

I appreciate that this site allows anon comments for precisely this reason, registration WILL at some point be co-opted and misused, legally or illegally. A note to some sites, notably wired.com, when you require registration your comment count drops precipitously and commentators self censor their real response. If you really want to know what I think drop the registration and I will comment, otherwise your site will become read only and much lower priority. Freedom of speech in the US is on life support. I had fond hopes that Obama’s insight into constitutional law might restore erosion of our rights but I am really disappointed in his dismal track record.

Bradley Stewart (profile) says:

What are all these people afraid of?

A friend of mine who buys and sells like a high quality Sanford and Son once told me a story. He said that he went to what is called a box sale. He was speaking with the broker in charge of the sale. He told the broker that he would take this and this and this but he didn’t like this and that and he was not interested in purchasing these items. The broker said to him no you don’t understand. He said what do you mean? The broker said this is a box sale. You can’t choose. You have to take the good with the bad. This is the good. This is the bad. Folks the Internet is a box sale.

r.cook says:

Re: My name is Mark Dyer

Mark Dyer:
( I live in London.I hate the US government.Come and find me you pussies.)

We don’t care If you like the U.S.or Not.We kick’d your sorry ass out of OUR country over 200yrs ago.So who is the Pussy??? Why would I waste my time looking for a Socialist?
I’m trying to send more of them from here to London.We could give you Obama to replace Brown.By the way,WE wand the DVD’s Back that Obama gave your Queen!!!

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unless you don’t agree with their posts, and then you have no problem posting it here.

We have never revealed anyone’s personal identifying info of any sort. Lying does not help your case.

At times, we have pointed out that multiple comments were by the same person, or taken reasonable guesses at who someone is (hi Weird Harold!), which that person will often confirm.

However, we have no information stored to identify anyone directly, so no, you are incorrect.

Please. Do not lie.

Anonymous12 says:

Anonymous Coward – Jun 12th, 2009 @ 12:30pm
Unless you don’t agree with their posts, and then you have no problem posting it here.

@AC: I have no problem with identifying (as a theoretical example) someone who is claiming to be a consumer, defending the RIAA, but then who through their IP address (which is identifiable information for the website admin)
is traced to RIAA headquarters. This of course is only a theoretical example, since you remain cowardly, and refuse to site an ACTUAL or REAL WORLD example, I’ll assume your statement is basically total BS. Sound fair? Good. Now STHU.

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