Homeland Security wants to subpoena Techdirt over the identity of a hyperbolic commenter

This week, Techdirt's Tim Cushing published a story about the Hancock County, IN Sheriff's Department officers who stole $240,000 under color of asset forfeiture.



Digger, a Techdirt commenter, remarked, "The only 'bonus' these criminals [the Sheriff's Department officers] are likely to see could be a bullet to their apparently empty skulls."

This prompted the Department of Homeland Security to contact Techdirt and ask whom they should send a subpoena to in order to get at the identity of Digger. Masnick is worried that the subpoena, when and if it arrives, could come with a gag order, so he's publishing now:

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.

Homeland Security Wants To Subpoena Us Over A Clearly Hyperbolic Techdirt Comment
[Mike Masnick/Techdirt]