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Justice Dept. Asked For Broad Swath of IndyMedia's Visitor Records 244

DesScorp writes "In a case that tests whether online and independent journalism has the same protections as mainstream journalism, the Justice Department sent Indymedia a grand jury subpoena. It requires a list of all visitors on a day, and further, a gag order to Indymedia 'not to disclose the existence of this request.' CBS reports that 'Kristina Clair, a 34-year-old Linux administrator living in Philadelphia who provides free server space for, said she was shocked to receive the Justice Department's subpoena,' and that 'The subpoena from US Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis demanded "all IP traffic to and from" 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.' Clair is being defended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation."
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Justice Dept. Asked For Broad Swath of IndyMedia's Visitor Records

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Say hello to the new boss.

    • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @02:39PM (#30049220)

      It's a long shot, but this might be the Obama administration's way of killing these kinds of subpoenas.

      If BHO, the Attorney-General and the Secretary of Homeland Security decided to stop issuing these subpoenas, that would last at least 4 years and maybe eight, but that would be it. If Congress passed a law that forbade him from issuing these subpoenas pro se, he might abide by it, but the next guy might not, would be able to tie it up in the courts, and the courts might eventually let the thing pass.

      However, if he sends out a subpoena to someone who isn't really doing anything wrong, who is likely to fight the case tooth and nail, and if the admin makes the demands of the subpoena so egregious that no court in their right mind would find it acceptible, he might be able to extract a ruling from the supreme court that says these subpoenas are illegal, or at least get good language for a test on their reasonableness. It's very sneaky but for a lawyerly mind it has a certain elegance. The upshot is that no president can ever again send out these kinds of subpoena, by order of the supreme court, and all the while the administration looks like a zealous investigator.

      It's a long shot and a conspiracy theory, though.

  • by Meshach ( 578918 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:39PM (#30048208)
    The biggest worry to me is the line "...not to disclose the request". They can issue a bogus request and get shot down via proper channels. But asking everyone to keep it a secret smells fishy.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:44PM (#30048284) Journal
      Conveniently, though, the request for secrecy offers a reasonable chance of keeping the fishy smell from attracting broader notice.

      In this case, Indymedia is the sort of outfit that would be ideologically opposed to just knuckling under and they got actual legal help from the EFF(even then, though, once they dropped the initial request, the EFF's lawyer had to push to get them to back off from threats around disclosure). How often, though, do you think that that demand for secrecy, completely without legal basis, is simply obeyed by outfits with less spine or worse lawyers?

      This can't be the only time that that demand has been made.
      • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @02:02PM (#30048628) Homepage

        How often, though, do you think that that demand for secrecy, completely without legal basis, is simply obeyed by outfits with less spine or worse lawyers?

        Considering most of the major telecos went along with wholesale spying on the American public, I'm guessing the number of organizations even challenging a request like that is going to be pretty small.

        I thought the courts already vacated the secrecy demands, except in terrorism related cases. Either I'm mistaken or the Justice Dept. figures there's no downside to bluffing.

        • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:29PM (#30050028) Journal

          I wish y'all would stop bashing Obama's Justice Department.

          Yes there are problems, but he's aware of them, and he's doing his best to solve these problems in his own way. He doesn't need us criticizing him, so just cooperate with the subpoena instead of making a fuss about it.

          /end sarcasm

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by rajafarian ( 49150 )

            This should be modded Insightful not Funny. I was so pissed that people were saying exactly that when Obama voted for immunity against the telecoms.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              The sad part is I'm quoting a Babylon 5 episode from 1995 (a Nightwatch guy defending EA President Clarke). Nothing really changes

        • Considering most of the major telecos went along with wholesale spying on the American public

          Only the calls with one of the ends outside America [] were ever "spied" on. Whether that's legal or not, it is hardly a "wholesale" spying on a public, the majority of whom have never been abroad nor personally know a foreigner. For domestic calls, the only things captured were the fact of the calls — not the conversation itself.

          This, I believe, was always legal — the government never needed a warrant to

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by HangingChad ( 677530 )

            Even if it were illegal, calling it "wholesale" is a flamebait...

            Oh, jeez, I'm sorry. They monitored every mode of electronic communication running through the US. Phones, email, web, everything. And there's evidence the monitoring occurred regardless of the origin of the calls.

            Would that be "retail" spying then? I'm not sure what label to attach to such a massive invasion of privacy. You're right that "wholesale" just doesn't do the scope justice. Perhaps "universal" or "galactic" might fit bett

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by pluther ( 647209 )

            If the government is tracking who I call, how many times I call them, when I call them, and for how long, it's still "spying" on me, even if they don't record the actual content of the phone calls.

            So, yeah, "wholesale" spying is still the appropriate term here.

    • And, as evidenced by this article, totally unreasonable. Not just to ask, but to expect. Meet the new boss...
    • If you read the eff analysis, they say its not only fishy but legally unfounded in this sort of case. If it was a court order and was targeted it would have been legal witgh the gag order. But this was a shotgun blast with a grand jury

    • by epiphani ( 254981 ) <[epiphani] [at] []> on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @02:34PM (#30049172)

      It actually says something much much louder... that they issue these requests ALL the time and they regularly get them answered.

      This was fought because it went to a small, independent admin. How much do you want to bet that these requests go out to larger companies and get answered quickly and quietly without us ever hearing about it?

  • by j_presper_eckert ( 617907 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:39PM (#30048220)
    Whaaaaat, Your Honor??? Sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome my 24-hour-data-retention-policy is!
    Fuck that subpeona.
    In the ear.
    With a Siberian ice dildo.
    • by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:51PM (#30048438)

      With a Siberian ice dildo.

      Well, OK. As long as it's Siberian. Do you have your import papers in order for that item? Of course, the court acknowledges that's it's *a* Siberian ice dildo, not *your* Siberian ice dildo.

    • No. With a spoon!

      Why a spoon?

      Because it hurts more! ^^

      P.S.: I think the quote was from "Robin Hood - Men In Tights". But I can't find in online.

      • Negative, that's a quote from the actual "Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves" movie.

        I believe it's Alan Rickman that utters the line to his worse-than-useless brother.

        PS - Yes, I am aware knowing this movie even reasonably well makes me lame.

        • [the Sheriff has said he'll cut out Robin Hood's heart with a spoon]
          Guy of Gisborne: Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an axe?
          Sheriff of Nottingham: Because it's DULL, you twit. It'll hurt more.

          Yeah, I have nothing better to do right now than look that up. []

    • by Paracelcus ( 151056 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:19PM (#30050746) Journal

      A battery backed RAM disk (DRAM not SRAM) with a large red button to interrupt power to the PC and the RAM disk!

      Ooops! I musta kicked out that pesky wire again, damn!

      You could call it a patriot act HDD.

  • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:40PM (#30048224)

    I want to know why admins keep this information if they are running a website that could be the subject of a subpoena? Delete the fucking shit already and be done with it. Then, when the feds come knocking, you simply reply, "I'm sorry my http.conf is setup to direct logs to /dev/null. Have a nice day."

    • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:44PM (#30048306) Journal
      They don't. According to the article, IP addresses are not recorded and other records are kept only for a few weeks.
    • I don't run any sites that will likely be the subject of a subpoena, but I also don't keep logs around for more than a few weeks.

      Do they honestly expect that logs from last year will still be available and contain the info they are demanding?
      • I don't run any sites that will likely be the subject of a subpoena

        I don't think you've really thought about that statement very much. :p

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MikeBabcock ( 65886 )

        ... and your firewall and access logs aren't on the tape backups either ....

    • by Wowsers ( 1151731 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:57PM (#30048540) Journal
      Dear website admin,
      You are now ordered to supply us with a printout of all information in /dev/null

      In what some are calling a "rogue" decision, the Los Angeles District Court ruled on May 29, 2007, in Columbia Pictures Industries v. Bunnell, that data stored in a computer's Random Access Memory --that's correct you read it right, in its RAM -- is discoverable.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Posting anonymously, since I have insight into this stuff that should probably have a security clearance for (which I do not).

      Major companies, internet providers, and telecommunications providers (cell networks, other wireless communications, etc) are being forced into implementing logging and retention of this data on huge scales. When I say forced, I mean under threat of pissing off the government. There are no laws saying these companies have to retain this data for years, and provide it to government

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Coren22 ( 1625475 )

        So, you then post anonymously expecting that they don't know exactly who posted it?

      • >>>In my company, I'm watching them implement 15 petabyte storage solutions just to keep track of 12 months of http hits

        Why doesn't your company just declare "unfunded mandate" and refuse to comply until (or if) a law is passed?

  • by Tickety-boo ( 1206428 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:43PM (#30048272)
    If she is only retaining the logs of the IP addresses for a few months, and did not know this order was coming, she is safe.

    FRCP Rule 37 states: []

    Absent exceptional circumstances, a court may not impose sanctions under these rules on a party for failing to provide electronically stored information lost as a result of the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system.

  • I don't get it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:45PM (#30048316)
    Why would anyone be shocked by something like this? It's not like it hasn't happened before. One thing about LIberals and Conservatives, they both like control. Their idealogies may not be the same but their methods aren't that different.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tjstork ( 137384 )

      Why would anyone be shocked by something like this? It's not like it hasn't happened before. One thing about LIberals and Conservatives, they both like control. Their idealogies may not be the same but their methods aren't that different.

      I would argue that everyone likes control, but if there is one thing conservatives and liberals can agree on, it is that republicans are not conservatives and democrats are not liberals, despite our flamewars to the contrary.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jawn98685 ( 687784 )
      Really? When was the last time you heard of a "liberal" judge or federal prosecutor trying to stomp on free speech?
      BTW, calendar check..., Tim Morrison (the moron who started all this nonsense) was appointed to his federal post of United States Attorney under the Bush (43) administration. So you're right - a right-wing appointed tool acting they way he did... not surprising in the least. Well, OK, there was one surprise. The subpoena was so ham-handed that I rather expected to see that he'd been one of th
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by CDPS ( 1106089 )
      Rubbish. Find me a liberal outside of the US Gov that supports this--under any administration. Bet you cannot. I certainly do not. However, while some right wingers will be outraged by this because of Obama, had it been Bush or another Repub doing it, they would have supported the move. This is easy to *prove* simply by going back to what was being said over the last few years by right wingers regarding warrantless wiretaps and the like.
    • Judge Napolitano frequently says

      "We have a ONE party system - the Big Government Party - and it has two branches: the republican branch and the democratic branch."

      That guy's brilliant.

  • by StormReaver ( 59959 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:55PM (#30048490)

    I remember a Supreme Court case several years ago that dealt with the question of who is considered to be The Press. I think it involved acquiring Press credentials. The Court decided that a member of the Press is anyone who is acting in that capacity, whether full time or part time. It didn't matter if the person was employed by a large corporation, or was part of a middle school glee club.

    • Finally a comment that has some substance to it.
    • Even if the SCOTUS had decided "the press" is only those with credentials, it would not revoke my right of free speech (amendment 1) nor my right of freedom to write-down my thoughts (amendment 9). The latter is protected by article 40 of the Maryland Constitution - "that every citizen of the State ought to be allowed to speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects".

      Aside -

      I also like this particular right: "That monopolies are odious, contrary to the spirit of a free government and the princip

  • by Seakip18 ( 1106315 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @02:02PM (#30048648) Journal

    Ok. The news article is new, but the content is anything but.

    The subpoena was withdrawn in a one sentence letter [] in late Feburary 2009 after the EFF sent a letter [] to the DOJ pointing out the problems with the subpeona.

    We're only hearing about all of it now. It is troubling that the DOJ will not come out and say what the original motivation for even sending the subpoena in the first and is being mum about it all.

    On top of that, the dates are all mixed up. The subpoena was sent in June 2008, according to the CBS article. However, the EFF says it wasn't received until January 30th 2009. This is important to note as Obama took office the 20th. The EFF's letter was sent Feb. 13th, with a return letter from the DOJ on the 25th.

    My guess, it was probably a rookie lawyer who sent a badly worded request to SysAdmin during the confusion of a new president taking office.

  • Since when are lists of readers or subscribers protected information, specifically protect from revelation through subpoena?

    • Since when do webservers log your SSN and bank account or credit card numbers?

    • by _LORAX_ ( 4790 )

      The subpoena was for traffic and that would cover both the readers, commenter, and journalists reading and posting on that day. Besides being overbroad on it's face the gag order is clearly unconstitutional. Even if it didn't have the gag and was more specific 1st amendment privilege could be used to defend the "doe's" against the unreasonable release of their stored information unless they targeted non-protected speech.

      • OK, but none of that is considered protected journalistic information.

        The identity of readers, editorial letter writers, and/or commenters is not protected by journalist shield laws nor is it protected from subpoena. The identity of the journalist may possibly be considered protected if the journalist is anonymous, but I highly doubt it.

        The subpoena itself was issued under the authority of USC 18 2704 C paragraph 2. The information requested in the subpoena is the same data listed in the statute listed.


  • This is one more reason to have a posted retention policy stating that server logs will be removed after 30/60/90 days or stripped of identifying information. You can always get historical visitor data, trends, etc. from Google Analytics (with no IPs showing) sans logfiles.
  • Unless their is some legal compulsion to do so why not just destroy all traces of data that flows to a site every day or two? Just why is there any need to hang on to all of that information?

  • The date (Score:4, Interesting)

    by segfault7375 ( 135849 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:22PM (#30049880)
    One question that I haven't seen asked yet is why June 25, 2008? A scan of indymedia's articles didn't turn up anything earth shattering on that day or the day before. Thoughts?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dkleinsc ( 563838 )

      I suspect it's simply a matter of when they thought to do it.

      IndyMedia tends to have info on a lot of things that the fascist types find inconvenient, such as what weapons were being deployed against protesters in Pittsburgh during the G20 summit and videos of police beating up people who aren't threatening them. By looking at the visitor logs, they can find out who's finding out about their not-so-legal activities, and oppress accordingly.

      In other words, this has "chilling effect" written all over it.

    • Re:The date (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @05:35PM (#30051866)

      It was one year to the day before the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.
      Coincidence, I think not.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle