United States: Justice Department's illegal “fishing expedition”

Philadelphia-based Indymedia.us was sent a subpoena by the Justice Department, demanding details of visitors on a certain day. Declan McCullagh at CBS News says that the Department also asked that the website not to disclose the existence of the subpoena.

“The subpoena from U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis demanded “all IP traffic to and from www.indymedia.us” on June 25, 2008. It instructed Clair to “include IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information,” including e-mail addresses, physical addresses, registered accounts, and Indymedia readers’ Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and so on.

“I didn't think anything we were doing was worthy of any (federal) attention,” Clair(Kristina Clair, provides free server space for the website and is based in Philadelphia) said in a telephone interview with CBSNews.com on Monday. After talking to other Indymedia volunteers, Clair ended up calling the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, which represented her at no cost.”

So far there have been no comment on what criminal case U.S Attorney Tim Morrison was pursing and why it required detailed visitor log from Indymedia.

According to Media Matters, Attorney General Eric Holder never saw or approved the subpoena-as the subpoena was submitted before Holder was sworn in , contrary to what some websites have been reporting. Mark Filip was then acting Attorney General.

“A Justice Department official familiar with this subpoena just told me that the attorney general's office never saw it and that it had not been submitted to the department's headquarters in Washington, D.C. for review. If that's correct, it suggests that U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison and Assistant U.S. Attorney Doris Pryor did not follow department regulations requiring the “express authorization of the attorney general” for media subpoenas — and it means that neither Attorney General Eric Holder nor Acting Attorney General Mark Filip were involved.”

Although the subpoena was later withdrawn, the action of U.S Attorney Tim Morrison and Assistant U.S Attorney Doris Pryor raises serious questions about an independent media's right to operate freely and also violates the media's First Amendment rights.

Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represented Ms. Clair questions the government intention in conducting such “fishing expeditions”

“This story is an an important example of how government abuses breed in secrecy, and an argument for Congress to step in and require meaningful reporting about how the government uses its surveillance authorities. How often does the government attempt such illegal fishing expeditions through internet data? How many online service providers have received similarly bogus demands, and handed over how much data, violating how many internet users’ privacy? How many of those subpoena recipients have been intimidated into silence by unconstitutional gag orders?”

It remains to be seen whether Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department will investigate this incident.


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