Attorneys In Seth Rich-Linked Defamation Case Demand Identifying Info Of Thousands Of Twitter Users [Updated]
from the only-the-DOJ-can-issue-a-broader-bullshit-subpoena dept
The brother of murdered DNC employee Seth Rich is suing some right-wing writers and their publishing platforms for defamation. Aaron Rich raises some rather decent libel claims, pointing out he’s been subjected to numerous articles, tweets, podcasts, and livestreams pushing the theory he’s either responsible for his brother’s death or profited from it in some way. The lawsuit [PDF] names America First Media, the Washington Times, and writers Edward Butowsky and Matt Couch as defendants.
The allegations are serious. Everything that’s been claimed by the defendants accuses Aaron Rich of multiple criminal acts. This is the list of allegedly defamatory claims made by those being sued.
Aaron worked with his brother, Seth, to steal and leak DNC documents to WikiLeaks, including by serving as the information technology expert that made the leak of documents to WikiLeaks possible;
Aaron received money into his own bank account from WikiLeaks for helping Seth provide those stolen documents;
Aaron knew in advance that his brother was going to be murdered for his role in leaking documents to WikiLeaks, but did nothing to stop it, and even warned Seth’s girlfriend in advance to break up with him to protect her own safety;
Aaron has covered up his involvement in his purported role in leaking documents to WikiLeaks; and
Aaron has obstructed justice by interfering with law enforcement efforts to bring his brother’s murderer to justice, including his purported refusal to provide law enforcement with access to investigative materials.
The lawsuit is interesting reading. And it’s disturbing reading. Rich made several private attempts to secure retractions from the defendants but his efforts only encouraged more articles and unproven claims to appear.
But this post isn’t about that lawsuit… at least not directly. Twitter user Virgil spotted a rather disturbing subpoena linked to the case. Sent to Twitter by Rich’s lawyers, the subpoena [PDF] demands Twitter produce identifying info for thousands of Twitter users.
It first lists the “primary” Twitter accounts it wishes to obtain information about:
Twitter accounts associated with the following Twitter handles: @RealMattCouch; @americafirstmg; @EdButowsky; @WashTimes; @JamesALyonsJr, @ThinBlueLR; @Hannibalmoot; @FITE4THE USERS; @Eddie_Graham23; @TruthinGovernment201; @therealbp65; @jflippo1327; @Ty_Clevenger; @JaredBeck; @CassandraRules; @gatewaypundit; @KimDotcom; @JulianAssange; @Wikileaks; @RogerStoneJr.
This would be concerning enough if that were the end of it. Many of these Twitter accounts have nothing to do with the defendants other than their echoing of allegedly-defamatory claims and their general political persuasion. Wikileaks has nothing to do with this other than its release of DNC emails. Everything tying Aaron Rich to Wikileaks stems from the defendants’ actions and words — not anything Wikileaks has done itself. This is already overbroad and we haven’t even gotten to the really broad part.
The next paragraph of the subpoena demands info for all of the following accounts:
The term “Secondary Accounts” means any Account that communicated with the Primary Accounts, including but not limited to tweeting, re-tweeting, direct messages, and replies from January 1, 2015 to the present.
This has the potential to snare thousands, if not millions, of Twitter users in Rich’s subpoena dragnet. (I know I would be one of the “secondary accounts,” as would be all of the Techdirt writing staff and site owner Mike Masnick.)
To be clear, Twitter has not turned over this info to Rich’s lawyers. His legal team is going to be facing a lot of tough questions from the judge once Twitter submits its challenge. (According to the docket, it doesn’t appear Twitter has done that yet, but then again, it was only served June 1st.) There’s always a small chance the judge will see nothing wrong with Twitter producing information linked to thousands of accounts, but that’s very unlikely. Twitter, fortunately, has a solid legal team. Other outlets that may be served in this case may not.
Rich’s lawyers should know better than this. Perhaps they’re hoping the absurdity of the request will result in a narrowing that still allows them to access account info they would like to have, but haven’t shown any legal reason to demand. It’s also a reminder that subpoenas are only judicially vetted after they’ve been submitted to recipients and (this is important) after the recipient challenges them. Subpoena power is immense and it’s up to courts and recipients to ensure the power isn’t abused.