CBS News is reporting that the U.S. Department of Justice sent a formal request to an independent news site ordering it to provide details of all reader visits on a certain day. U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis, issued subpoenas to Indymedia.us demanding information that included e-mail and IP addresses, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, etc. There was also a demand that Indymedia not disclose to anyone that they had received the subpoenas.
This was an unprecedented affront to both freedom of the press and the right to privacy for citizens who happened to visit a particular web site. Indymedia sought advice from the Electronic Frontier Foundation who succeeded in getting the subpoenas withdrawn. However, many questions remain. There was never any disclosure as to the criminal case that was being investigated by Justice Department. The subpoenas themselves were improper, as was the gag order, but no one in the Justice Department is commenting on that.
An amusing side note to this is that rightist media groups are framing this as an abuse of power by the Obama administration. Although this is just now coming to light, they fail to note that the investigation began during the Bush administration, months before the election in 2008. The date specified in the subpoena for the information they were seeking was June 25, 2008. The subpoena itself was issued on January 22, 2009, just two days after Obama was inaugurated. Obviously the investigation had to precede the issuance of subpoenas.
As further evidence of Obama’s culpability, it was noted that subpoenas to the media have to be approved by the Attorney General. The right-wing leaped on this factoid to accuse Obama’s AG, Eric Holder, of complicity in this outrageous act. Unfortunately for that theory, Holder was not confirmed to the position until February 2, 2009, after the subpoenas had already been sent.
So the whole affair was conducted by the Bush Department of Justice, with a Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney (Morrison), and an acting AG who was also left over from Bush’s administration. This is typical of the Bush regime’s disrespect for freedom of the press. And the response from the right is typical of their embrace of disinformation and propaganda.
Behavior like this by officials in law enforcement is unconscionable, and should not be tolerated by any administration. It appears that the Obama administration did the right thing when it was brought to their attention by withdrawing the subpoenas, but they need to go further and reveal the nature of the investigation that led to this action, and the role of Bush officials in the affair. And it would also be nice if they would make a statement disapproving of such behavior and declaring it outside the policy of this administration.