Federal government demands user logs

Well, the federal government is at it again. Bush era policies of spying and sneaking around are alive and well within the Obama administration. This time, they tried to track where citizens get their information. And they did not want you to know about it.

The Justice Department issued a subpoena that requested information detailing the users of an independent media Web site. This raises serious issues, and it makes one wonder why the government would waste time and valuable resources tracking where Americans are getting their news.

Thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the attempt to get Indymedia.us to hand over information about the site’s users was made public. The thing that should have people upset is the fact the Justice Department told Indymedia to keep quiet about the request.

EFF’s Kevin Bankston wrote: “This overbroad demand for Internet records not only violated federal privacy law but also violated [Indymedia’s] First Amendment rights, by ordering [it] not to disclose the existence of the subpoena without a US attorney’s permission.” Our civil liberties might not be safe under any president’s
administration. No matter what they promise during election season.

According to the EFF’s report, Indymedia received a request from the Justice Department in January for the IP addresses of everyone who had visited the site on June 25, 2008. That’s not all. The feds also ordered all of the information Indymedia had about its users, including their addresses, email addresses, bank account numbers and social security numbers, be turned over immediately.

Luckily, Indymedia doesn’t collect all of that detailed data, and the IP addresses of users are not kept on file very long. It also decided to be represented by the EFF in court. When the EFF challenged the Justice Department in court, it backed off of its demands quickly. Maybe the feds just wanted to see if they could get away with it.

But as they were backing off of their demands, they also threatened Indymedia Web administrator Kristina Clair with obstruction of justice charges if she revealed the existence of the subpoena. The Justice Department claimed revealing the request “may endanger someone’s health” and would have a “human cost.” The government admitted the gag order had no legal basis and it did not continue the matter in court, probably because it did not like its odds in a drawn out legal battle.

Adding to the lunacy is the fact the government will not reveal what investigation the Indymedia request is tied to. That’s right; it won’t tell us why it needs to spy on the news gathering activities of Americans. We are just supposed to trust that it’s for our own good. I wonder, how many other times has the government misused its considerable power to monitor what news outlets Americans use?

How many recipients of these subpoenas were bullied into caving in and complying? The Bush administration was notorious for abusing its power to monitor the activities of its political enemies and ultimately eliminating them. Is this a new trend that will carry on from administration to administration? Only time will tell, but the more things supposedly change, the more they stay the same.

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