Wednesday, June 17, 2009

U.S. Attorney threatens free speech on the internet

The internet is a lot of things.  It is good and bad.  It is important and frivolous.  It is the last bastion of truly free speech in a politically correct and increasingly controlled word and it is forum for fools to rant and rave.  It is a tool for legal purposes and a tool for criminal enterprise.  It is all of these things, and more.

But the internet is certainly a vibrant and necessary venue for public debate on issues.  Not only blogs but media sites like and the Las Vegas Review-Journal's website invite reader comments.  And everywhere I've seen, such comments can be left anonymously or under a pseudonym.  Because of that anonymity, people are free to say what they really think, without fear of reprisal from anyone else, and without disclosing their opinions to whomever might be curious . . . family, friends, employers, government, etc.  And freedom makes the debate much more relevant and interesting.

The U.S. Attorney for Nevada, however, is attaching that freedom and, consequently, attacking freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  (Link to story here.)  A federal grand jury subpoena has been issued to the Las Vegas Review-Journal seeking the real names, physical addresses, IP addresses, telephone numbers, genders, dates of birth and, get this, credit card numbers, and other information of people who posted comments on the newspaper's website in response to a story about an investigation underway.  The prosecutors want this information because "some comments hinted at acts of violence" toward grand jurors.

But the subpoena is not limited to seeing information about posters who "hinted" at violence.  It is, apparently, going after everyone's information. 

The newspaper is fighting the subpoena.  Good.  Its editor indicated a willingness to cooperate if "specific crimes or real threats" were presented.  Also good.  But until that point, the constitutionally protected freedom to speak anonymously must be protected.

As you might all know, this issue is personal for me.  I run this blog anonymously.  Why?  Am I afraid of letting people know what I think?  In general, the answer is a definite no.  But, on the other hand, I wouldn't want deranged liberals looking me up in the white pages and then calling me at home or showing up at my house to express their thoughts or feelings.  It is also none of my employer's business what my personal political views are.  My employer's views might be (in fact, probably are) different than mine and, frankly, I don't want to open even a potential can of worms.

Anonymity begets free speech on the internet.  It must be protected or many voices, including mine, will be silenced.

No comments: