Pennsylvania Attorney General Sends Broad, Unconstitutional Gag Order To Gab's New DNS Provider

from the security-through-intimidation dept

Because nothing motivates stupid legislative activity better than a tragedy, various officials are moving forward with dubious activities in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. In the state of New York, a couple of politicians have just announced a Constitutional violation two-fer, offering to separate residents from their Second Amendment rights by using their First Amendment rights against them.

Eric Adams, the president of Brooklyn Borough, and state Senator Kevin Palmer are currently writing the proposed legislation, which would give law enforcement authorities the power to check up to three years of an individual’s social media accounts and internet search history before they are allowed to buy a gun, WCBS Newsradio 880 reported. One of the main aims is to identify any hate speech shared by the users, as the politicians noted that such offensive comments are generally only discovered after mass shootings occur.

This proposal was offered up with complete sincerity despite:

a.) Hate speech being protected under the First Amendment, and

b.) the bill not targeting Gab — the site where the shooter’s anti-Semitic speech/threats were posted.

Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, has decided to do some “doing something” himself. In a statement to Haaretz one day after the shooting, the state AG promised to get to the bottom… of something.

“My office is reviewing this platform, which was used by the killer to spread his hateful messages,” Shapiro told Haaretz in an interview. “We have strong first amendment protections in this country, and that’s very important for me, but when that speech includes incitement to violence, that crosses a line. We cannot tolerate that.”

“Reviewing the platform…” Those are imprecise words promising imprecise actions. And the imprecise actions have arrived. Gab was the first to report on Shapiro’s “review” of its platform. Via Twitter, Gab announced the receipt of a broad, vague subpoena from Shapiro’s office. The tweets have since been deleted, but not before being archived. Here’s a screenshot of the first two tweets Gab sent to AG Shapiro. (via Timothy Lee at Ars Technica)

The subpoena wasn’t sent to Gab, but rather Epik, the domain provider Gab picked up after being dropped by GoDaddy in the days after the shooting. The whole subpoena — rescued from deleted tweets — can be found at Unicorn Riot. The subpoena demands Epik turn over pretty much any document the domain provider might have on Gab, including names and addresses of “any and all persons or entities employed by, representing, or otherwise acting on behalf of Gab.”

Shapiro’s fishing expedition — which decided to bypass Gab (most likely in hopes of finding its DNS provider more cooperative) — comes complete with a very half-assed gag order request.

Any disclosure to any person or entity, other than the person or entity identified as the Respondent, that a subpoena has been issued in this matter may jeopardize an ongoing civil investigation. Therefore, you are hereby requested to refrain from notifying any person or entity, other than said Respondent, that the subpoena has been issued.

The tweets from Gab to AG Shapiro, which included screenshots of the subpoena, likely made it clear Epik didn’t think much of the AG’s “shut up, please” request. Now, the overbroad demand is all over the internet, showing AG Shapiro would rather score political points post-tragedy than respect enshrined rights or statutory immunity.

First, Epik should be shielded from any civil enforcement actions against Gab under Section 230. It doesn’t appear the AG is seeking to take action against Epik, but nothing about these early developments that rules this course of action out. Second, the nominal target of Shapiro’s investigation contains a whole lot of unpleasant, but Constitutional speech. Third, it’s unclear what Shapiro is trying to accomplish. It appears Shapiro just wants to gather a bunch of information and then decide what sort of investigation he’d like to pursue. That’s not how investigations (and their attendant paperwork) are supposed to work.

It seems more like a Sheriff Dart-esque campaign of intimidation than a legitimate use of the AG’s office, as Eric Goldman points out in the Ars Technica article. I guess we’ll know more if Gab is forced to change registrars again. If Shapiro’s office arrives shortly thereafter with subpoena in hand, the “investigation” is nothing more than a quick and dirty way to push providers away from doing business with Gab.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: epik, gab

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 “Pennsylvania Attorney General Sends Broad, Unconstitutional Gag Order To Gab's New DNS Provider”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
I says:

You SKIPPED GoDaddy dropping Gab for no valid cause.

That’s actually far more damaging to the free speech you claim to want. — But it’s clear by now that you’ve no objection to corporate control of speech even though turns out same for individuals.

Here’s a bit supporting that GoDaddy has no justification for control of speech because it then violates the basis of Section 230:

To "offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse."

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a sacred privilege for social media companies. This law protects Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms from liability over the material published on their websites. One of the reasons these services are granted this privilege is the Congressional finding, embodied in legislation, that they "offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse." [47 U.S. Code S: 230 – Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material] In contrast, newspapers are subject to libel actions over Letters to the Editor, because they are assumed to have exercised editorial judgement in publishing them.

Link to US code:

If "platforms" do not provide free fair forums under common law principles, then as Google recently stated in the leaked PDF, they are LIABLE for all speech. — Oh, and specifically for this, GoDaddy is NOT liable so has violated the principle by exerting de fact total editorial control. Neither of those help The Public, as is purpose of all law in the US. Section 230 is NOT to empower new censors.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: You SKIPPED GoDaddy dropping Gab for no valid cause.

Haven’t read about this, but was GoDaddy being threatened by a government entity?

Some businesses have dumped groups before over government pressure, like Wikileaks being dumped by Paypal back when Wikileaks first became famous. There was a bunch of government backlash against them at the time.

Certain industries are effectively blacklisted from some services (like banking) because of government pressure and laws. Medical Marijuana businesses for example are not allowed to have bank accounts, because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and it would make the banks guilty of laundering ‘drug money’ in the Federal government’s eyes. While the banks may want to do business with them, they’re blacklisted because of government action.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You SKIPPED GoDaddy dropping Gab for no valid cause.

Some businesses have dumped groups before over government pressure, like Wikileaks being dumped by Paypal back when Wikileaks first became famous.

You might be confusing it with Visa. It’s kind of Paypal’s thing to dump customers for no good reason (and hold onto their money). But blocking Visa based on government pressure was unusual, and illegal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You SKIPPED GoDaddy dropping Gab for no valid cause.

Here’s a bit supporting that GoDaddy has no justification for control of speech because it then violates the basis of Section 230:

The "basis" of the law doesn’t matter. 230 states clearly that moderation does not cancel the immunity. (But, actually, that’s the reason 230 was created. A court had ruled BBS operators could be considered "publishers" if and only if they engaged in moderation, and some BBS operators stopped moderating in response.)

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


If "platforms" do not provide free fair forums under common law principles … they are LIABLE for all speech.

If a White supremacist forum (e.g., Stormfront) does not provide a “fair” forum for people whose speech goes against the normal discourse you would find on that forum (e.g., a Black Lives Matter supporter), what legal action can then be brought against the forum?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It is a pity that people are always cheering for these sorts of actions after a bad thing.
Completely blind to the reality of they are rooting for their own turn on the petard.

Stop thinking that there has to be a law or enforcement for every single bad thing that happens. Assign the blame to the person who committed the act, stop trying to expand responsibility.

Driver gets drunk, driver kills someone with their car…
The lawsuits that follow will include:
The Bar for failing to hook BA monitors to every patron.
The Car Maker for failing to use a patent they have on an impossible tech idea that might have stopped it.
The Cellphone Maker for failing to detect how drunk the driver was and automagically call 911 to stop them.
Anyone else with deep pockets who must pay the survivors for their failure to exercise complete control over a human.

I think Gab is a bunch of asshats, but this bullshit scares the hell out of me. Of course I can see the scenario where an AG goes on a witchhunt and goes after people I’ve had contact with to attempt to learn my identity, threatening them to avoid alerting me. Building fear & concern among people to lessen their desire to interact with me. Mind you it’s just a scare tactic to make people think the AG is ‘doing something!!!’ to stop my reign of terror. (rolls his eyes)

It would be nice if we learned to blame the people responsible for the actions they did & stop trying to expand responsibility out to others to have magically stopped the events they weren’t directly involved in.

People can say hateful things online, Gab isn’t the cause of it… and if you are all panties bunches over Gab… I’m guessing you missed the hundreds of white power & nazi websites all over the net…

We need to stop rewarding politicians who grand stand in this way & punish them for pandering to the crisis of the second at the expense of our rights. We let them keep doing this and become numb to the erosion of our rights caused by use thinking our rights are different than everyone elses rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

The shooter also used Facebook and Twitter. Apparently the principle of not holding an entire site responsible for the actions of one or a few users does not apply to everyone. Just the ones where the providers agree with the content politically.

You know, the bias that Techdirt writers continue to insist doesn’t exist in these huge web companies.

Primo Geek (profile) says:

Blame the maker not the method

While I believe that Gab is protected as a platform despite their pathetic attempts at policing, the AG crafted a very smart, enforceable subpoena. It is a “who is your customer” request that has absolutely no implications on CDA 230. Because they are targeting the provider and not Gab it avoids any of those sticky issues.

It reminds me of the kerfuffle about the John Doe subpoenas in music copyright cases. The problem wasn’t the John Doe subpoenas or that they were used to obtain IP addresses or users accounts. It was what the Plaintiffs were doing after getting the information.

There is a need for these tools but it is up to the courts and society to ensure they aren’t being abused. The AG is trying to figure out who really controls Gab. Taking further steps with that information is where it may be abusive.

Along those lines, most responsible hosts have terms of use that cover notice and a chance for the subject to contest the subpoena.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you don’t want to do a google search you don’t want the authorities to find, just sign out of your google account. so that when they look at what Google searches are under your account, the other searches won’t show it.

And as far as social media goes, there are ways to keep them from finding out things.

Just create a “decoy” social media presence and use that if needed. They will never be the wiser

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe its a good idea to use search engines outside the United States, so the governnment cannot find out what you are searching for.

Baidu, in China, is a good option. Becuase Baidu is not in the United States, they cannot be compelled to hand over any of your search history.

There servers are in China, so they are not subject to United States jurisdicion

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...
Older Stuff
13:30 A Reagan Judge, The First Amendment, And The Eternal War Against Pornography (63)
12:27 Yelp Asks Court To Stop Texas AG Ken Paxton From Suing Them For Warning Users That Crisis Pregnancy Centers Are Scams (51)
13:20 'Porn' Is A Human Right (58)
11:54 American Library Association Data Shows The Party Of Free Speech Is Doing More Than Ever To Silence Speech (83)
10:40 5th Circuit Decides To Rehear Jawboning Case Involving Disinfo Researchers, Realizes It Can't Do That Yet, Changes Mind Hours Later (8)
10:56 Federal Judge Says Fuck The 1st Amendment While Upholding Public University's Drag Show Ban (91)
10:39 White House, States Try To Convince Supreme Court In Jawboning Case (73)
20:09 Delaware State Police Pay $50,000 To Man Troopers Ticketed For Flipping Them Off (23)
09:36 Supreme Court Puts 5th Circuit Ruling On Biden Admin Jawboning Of Social Media Companies On Hold For Shadow Docket Review (41)
10:45 New Jersey Appeals Court Says Even Some Forms Of Harassment Are Protected Speech (27)
13:38 Another Day, Another SLAPP Threat From A ‘Wellness’ Influencer Against Someone Reviewing Their ‘Masterclass’ (16)
09:31 5th Circuit Cleans Up District Court’s Silly Jawboning Ruling About the Biden Admin, Trims It Down To More Accurately Reflect The 1st Amendment (40)
09:27 Court Tosses Arkansas Age Verification Law For Violating The 1st Amendment (16)
15:20 Texas Ruling Shows You Can't Regulate Online Pornography Like A Public Health Crisis (25)
13:30 Court Says Texas’ Adult Content Age Verification Law Clearly Violates The 1st Amendment (35)
12:50 State Governments Can't Resist The Siren Song Of Censorship (81)
10:50 Fifth Circuit Denies Immunity To Detective Who Arrested A Man For A Satirical Facebook Post (21)
12:44 Montana’s Response To Lawsuits Over Laughably Unconstitutional TikTok Ban Is To Say That TikTok Is The Equivalent Of ‘Cancer-Causing Radio’ (19)
09:25 ‘Free Speech Absolutist’ Elon Musk Suggests He’s Going To Sue George Soros… For His Free Speech Advocating For Certain Laws (129)
10:47 Jordan's King Approves Bill That Criminalizes Online Anonymity, Publication Of Police Officers Names/Photos (14)
10:58 Kansas Cops Raid Small Town Newspaper In Extremely Questionable 'Criminal Investigation' (26)
09:22 Tennessee Teen Sues School For Suspending Him After He Posted Memes Mocking His Principal (15)
11:57 ‘Free Speech Absolutist’ Elon Musk Files Obvious SLAPP Suit Against Non-Profit Critic (49)
10:58 Prime Minister's Brother Latest Victim Of Singapore's 'Fake News' Law (5)
13:45 Court: Injunction Blocking Florida's Anti-Drag Law Applies To Everyone Affected By It, Not Just Venue That Sued It (35)
09:31 How Would The GOP Feel If Democrats In Congress Demanded Details Regarding How Fox News Or The NY Post Made Editorial Decisions? (267)
10:46 Republican AGs Decide That Coercive Jawboning Is Good, Actually (When They Do It) (28)
10:49 Ninth Circuit Dumps Oregon's 'Surreptitious Recording' Law, Handing A First Amendment Win To Project Veritas (35)
10:52 In 303 Creative, By Happily Helping One Bigot, SCOTUS (Perhaps Inadvertently) Helped The Larger Fight Against Bigotry (168)
09:24 EU And Elon Battle Over The New Internet Regulations That Elon Himself Endorsed Last Year (14)
More arrow