Unless your a lefty activist, you've probably never heard of the online news site IndyMedia. But regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, the First Amendment rights of the site's citizen-journalist operators must be protected from federal interference.
Recently, US Attorney Tim Morrison sent a subpoena demanding "all IP traffic to and from www.indymedia.us" on June 25, 2008. The request also asked for IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information of the site's visitors such as email addresses, physical addresses, registered accounts, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and credit card numbers. And most troubling of all, the subpoena even instructed the site's host "not to disclose the existence of this request," even though it's probably illegal to send such a gag order to a journalist.
As Declan McCullagh reports on CBSNews.com, the Justice Department has somewhat limited powers when dealing with the press. Its guidelines dictate that "no subpoena may be issued to any member of the news media" without "the express authorization of the attorney general."
Morrison has since withdrawn his subpoena and there has been no official comment on why there was an investigation in the first place. Perhaps Morrison disregarded protocol, since a Justice Department official claims the attorney general's office in Washington never saw the subpoena.
In my opinion, President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder cannot stay mum on this issue. There needs to be a clear reprimand from the top, not a string of "no comments." Otherwise, the Justice Department leaves the impression, even if it's unintended, that they can continue to snoop on online news operations.
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