Prosecutors Say Subpoenas Will Be Used For Serious Crimes Against Children, Use Them For Everything Else

from the flexible-definitions-and-malleable-purposes dept

It’s always been true: if you give a government agency increased powers for a limited purpose, the limitations and the purpose will soon be shrugged off. The ACLU of Massachusetts is trying to get some prosecutorial power reeled back in, thanks to administrative subpoena mission creep.

When prosecutors first pushed for the power to seize telephone and Internet records themselves, bypassing the need for a judge to approve a warrant, they argued the power was necessary to help them quickly track down missing children and sexual predators.

But records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union show prosecutors have used that significant subpoena power hundreds of times a year in routine investigations related to larceny, check fraud, assault, and other common crimes.


In one case cited by the [ACLU], Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley issued a subpoena in 2011 to find the subscriber information for several Twitter handles and for anyone who used the hashtag #BostonPD after the police removed an Occupy Boston encampment in Dewey Square.

It is the same here as it is with everything else. Stingrays were supposed to be counterterrorism devices, what with them being repurposed war gear. But then it was homicides. Then drug dealers. Then pretty much anyone cops wanted to locate, even if all they’d done was steal $60 of fast food.

Likewise, National Security Letters. The clue is in the name. Maybe they’re only being used for national security purposes, but if so, America is under constant threat from prolific terrorists. The FBI issues thousands of these a year. And we know very little about the underlying crimes, thanks to indefinite gag orders and loads of government court filings still under seal.

The subpoenas discussed here are also administrative. This means prosecutors write the paperwork themselves and run it past no one before serving it to internet service providers and phone companies. They also do this thousands of times a year.

Four other district attorneys disclosed a limited amount of data. But Healey and Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan turned over a large trove of information that revealed how frequently the subpoenas are used. Ryan’s office said it issued more than 2,400 over the last three years, while Healey’s office said it sent more than 1,200 during the period.


District Attorney Michael O’Keefe of the Cape and Islands, who issued 450 subpoenas over the last three years…

All for serious crimes, right?

Ryan’s office said the subpoenas were used to investigate crimes ranging from annoying calls and destruction of property to stabbing and rape of a child.

This isn’t just irritating the ACLU. It’s also irritating legislators who felt they were misled by prosecutors during the push for expanded power. Senator Cynthia Creem says prosecutors said it would be used to tackle crimes against children. Instead, the subpoenas are being used to handle almost any criminal activity. In response to this prosecutorial abuse of a legislated privilege, Creem is now attempting a claw-back.

Creem has filed a bill that would limit the use of administrative subpoenas to certain crimes against children and require prosecutors to report how many subpoenas they issue, the types of investigations involved, and whether they led to charges and convictions. The bill would also require prosecutors, at the close of an investigation, to inform the customers whose telephone and internet logs were seized.

Undoubtedly, this bill will face stiff resistance from prosecutors who’ve become accustomed to getting everything they want exactly when they want it. It’s pretty difficult to convince investigators they don’t need this, even though they apparently had no problem closing investigations prior to the law’s passage in 2008.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Prosecutors Say Subpoenas Will Be Used For Serious Crimes Against Children, Use Them For Everything Else”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s also irritating legislators who felt they were misled by prosecutors during the push for expanded power. Senator Cynthia Creem says prosecutors said it would be used to tackle crimes against children.

It’s partially her fault for writing and/or voting for an overbroad law. They should have written that limit into the law from the beginning.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: what is law

sorry — the Constitution has been a dead letter since 1865

In this instance we hear very soft complaints about government prosecutors misusing “administrative subpoenas” — when in fact the very existence of any “administrative law” is outrageously non-Constitutional

Every lawyer in America should be marching in the streets in protest over the abomination of administrative-law … but none of them see it as a problem. That says a lot about the American legal profession.

{insert your favorite lawyer joke HERE|

Anonymous Coward says:

Senator Cynthia Creem says prosecutors said it would be used to tackle crimes against children.

I mean, claiming that it will be used for some purpose is not the same as claiming that it will not be used for any other purpose.

And as this senator used to be an attorney I have no sympathy for her supposed plight. She, more than most, should have understood exactly how important diction is, and how it can be used in rhetoric to mischaracterize and mislead. She knew exactly what she was doing when she granted this authority, and doesn’t get to pretend ignorance now to win a few points.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Gosh, it’s almost like government can not be entrusted with any exceptional powers whatsoever. They’re used in extraordinarily self-defeating ways and invariably they end up being used to propel one’s own agenda to the detriment of the whole.

We have ceded too much already and the writing is on the wall – tyrannical dystopia lies straight ahead (or fantasy, depending upon your world view).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This bears repeating so much.

The problem is that people have stockholms syndrome when it comes to government. They know they are getting the short enf of the stick but they think that government is the only institution that will save them from having an even shorter stick. So they just let government write laws and regulations without check in hopes that someone somewhere will magically make it all right in the face of all the businesses lobbying congress for regulations that let them turn consumers into captive economic demographics. Or just straight up criminals and prisoners per the private prison industry.

ECA (profile) says:


Anyone here Look up WHAT the DHS is now responsible for??

Citizenship & Immigration Services
Domestic Nuclear Detection Office
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers
Management Directorate
National Protection and Programs Directorate
Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties
Office of General Counsel
Office of Health Affairs
Office of Intelligence & Analysis
Office of Legislative Affairs
Office of Operations Coordination
Office of Partnership & Engagement
Office of Policy
Office of Public Affairs
Office of the Inspector General
Privacy Office
Science & Technology Directorate
Transportation Security Administration
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
United States Coast Guard
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
United States Secret Service


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I assume that “getting hacked” you mean only your computer.
Corporations everywhere are slurping up every data tidbit they can on everyone out there even if you do not have a business relationship with them. And some people claim that if you do not have an account with them, they create one for you so that they can track you. So, are you dumping the credit cards also? How about wearing a mask? Does such behavior make you subject to scrutiny?

Anonymous Coward says:

How about a review of what has already happened

Since this is government abusing the rights of those it oversees, why can’t we go back and review every instance where the subpoena was used and determine if it was correct or incorrect. Every time it was incorrect, lets prosecute those people for rights violations. Lets go ahead and use these cool subpoenas though, you never know what dirt you can turn up on a subject once you go digging through everything available.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

This… this callback just goes here…

“And that gleaming spire there on the horizon… that’s the number of “Patriot Act Warrant Requests”, I guess drugs are terrorists too…. It is ok give us unlimited powers with no oversight or responsibility… we won’t misuse it… Trust Us. “

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...