from the guys,-calm-down dept
Not surprisingly, this story of what many would argue is just blatant theft by law enforcement (the people who are supposed to be protecting us from theft) upset a number of folks who expressed their frustrations in the comments -- some using colorful language. That kind of language might not necessarily be considered appropriate in polite company, but isn't entirely out of place in internet forums and discussions where rhetorical hyperbole is not uncommon.
So I have to admit that I was rather surprised yesterday afternoon when we received a phone call from an agent with Homeland Security Investigations (the organization formerly known as ICE for Immigration and Customs Enforcement), asking where they could send a subpoena to identify a commenter on our site. Our lawyer, Paul Levy of Public Citizen Litigation Group, requested more information and we were told that DHS is interested in obtaining user information on the following comment by "Digger."
The only "bonus" these criminals are likely to see could be a bullet to their apparently empty skulls.Now, that's pretty crude and a bit ridiculous. But it's also pretty obviously not even anything remotely like an actual threat. First off, he's not suggesting that he's looking to do this at all. He's suggesting that "the person wronged" -- by which he likely means Mr. Muhana -- would somehow get some friends to do this. This is pretty ridiculous and almost certainly wrong. Second, he's actually responding to another comment, that reasonably bemoans the likelihood that those involved in all of this will receive no punishment at all.
The person wronged probably knows people who know people in low places who'd take on the challenge pro-bono, after a proper "cooling-off" period.
Now, it's entirely possible that there are more details here involving a legitimate investigation, but it's difficult to believe that's the case given the information we have to date. Also, we have not yet received the subpoena, just the phone calls and emails suggesting that it's on its way. Normally, we'd wait for the details before publishing, but given a very similar situation involving commenters on the site Reason last year, which included a highly questionable and almost certainly unconstitutional gag order preventing Reason from speaking about it, we figured it would be worth posting about it before we've received any such thing.
We have told Homeland Security that we're willing to receive the subpoena and review it, but that based on what we know, we have serious First Amendment concerns about the request itself. Multiple Supreme Court cases, including Rankin v. McPherson and Watts v. United States have made it clear that people have a First Amendment right to say that they hope the President gets shot, let alone a law enforcement agent. It may be rude and uncomfortable, but if it is not an indication of a "true threat," then it is protected. And, as such, the idea of disclosing any information about someone who was clearly engaged in rhetorical hyperbole in an internet forum, likely leading to federal agents showing up at his or her door, is quite troubling to us.
Really, the most ridiculous part of this is why this is what's being investigated, rather than why the government was basically able to just walk away with $240,000 from this guy and ignore his attempts to get his money back.
We will keep you informed... as much as we are able to.