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.


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  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 20 Jul 2017 @ 8:13am

    "...limit the use of administrative subpoenas to certain crimes against children..."

    But... think of the children!

    (Oh, wait...)

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2017 @ 10:31am

      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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2017 @ 9:40am

    The Constitution can be a major pain in the ass. If makes cops, prosecutors, judges and the government work harder. Were it not for the Constitution, many people would have easier jobs.

    What they need to take to heart is this. They have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2017 @ 10:52am

      Re:

      In the long run, doing it the right way is the easy way.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2017 @ 4:07pm

      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|

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

  • identicon
    Common Sense, 20 Jul 2017 @ 10:28am

    Sarcasm

    Politicians and Lobbyists lying and using hyperbole to get laws that benefit them passed? Who'dve thought? Clearly this is some new and unusual
    Behavior. Something Must Be Done! Or our children will suffer.

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

  • icon
    DB (profile), 20 Jul 2017 @ 10:38am

    Just like Amber Alterts

    Amber Alerts were originally for kidnapping, and were explicitly not to be used for custody disputes.

    It turns out that there are vanishingly few stranger abductions, and the system's budget couldn't be justified. So they gradually broadened it. Today it's used almost exclusively in custody disputes.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2017 @ 10:46am

    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.

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

  • icon
    Rapnel (profile), 20 Jul 2017 @ 11:27am

    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).

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2017 @ 12:18pm

      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.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 20 Jul 2017 @ 12:00pm

    Help!

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

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_Homeland_Security

    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

    THATS THE SHORT LIST..VERY SHORT..

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2017 @ 12:19pm

      Re: Help!

      The fox is guarding the hen house, just the way we like it!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jul 2017 @ 7:13am

      Re: Help!

      "Responsible" may be too strong of a word to use in this context as they do not understand its definition.

      I thought the GOP was for small government but every time they do anything it ends up making the government bigger.

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

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 Jul 2017 @ 12:14pm

    A good rule of thumb

    When a government entity wants more power, fight it tooth and nail. Once you give that power up, you will never get it back.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2017 @ 1:06pm

    I put down the cell phone eons, and do not have a land line. One year from next month the internet goes as well. God help anyone who gets hacked. The sooner they shutter the criminal racket we call the internet the better.

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 20 Jul 2017 @ 2:18pm

      Re:

      And next week you move in with your Amish neighbor. ;)

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jul 2017 @ 7:19am

      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?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2017 @ 2:43pm

    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.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Jul 2017 @ 4:41pm

    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. "

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110908/02534215846/wasnt-patriot-act-supposed-to-be-about-stopp ing-terrorism.shtml

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


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