The FBI is currently trying to get a list of IP addresses, phone numbers, and other information on those who read a USA Today article about the death of two of its agents.
FBI is Allegedly Going After USA Today Readers
According to Politico, the subpoena says it relates to a criminal investigation, and the FBI is seeking the information of readers who accessed the article in a specific 35-minute timespan. Still, it is not clear who or what the Bureau is trying to track down.
USA Today is fighting back against handing over the information and called the request unconstitutional. USA Today publisher Maribel Perez Wadsworth said in a statement to The Verge that they were surprised to receive this subpoena, particularly in light of President Biden’s recent remarks supporting press freedom.
The subpoena is also contrary to the Justice Department’s own guidelines regarding the narrow circumstances in which subpoenas can be issued to the news media.
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The article in question that was published by USA Today on Feb. 2, 2021, was about a shootout that happened when FBI agents tried to execute a search warrant in a child pornography case, resulting in the deaths of two FBI agents and the suspect.
The subpoena, filled by an FBI special agent, requests a large amount of information about the devices that accessed the article from 7:30 PM Eastern Standard time to 7:38 PM Eastern Standard time on the evening that the article was published.
It is not clear why the request was made, given that the suspect described in the article was, by the time that the article was published, reported to be dead.
Whatever the FBI is looking for, USA Today stated in its court filing that the request violates the First Amendment, citing multiple rulings from previous cases where the government was not allowed access to similar records.
Also, USA Today argued that the FBI accessing the general records of those who read the story could put a cooling effect on its journalistic efforts, as a Supreme Court Justice cited in the motion put it in 1953, the government asking for this kind of information can make people feel like someone is reading over their shoulder.
Perez Wadsworth added that USA Today’s attorneys attempted to contact the FBI before moving forward to fight the subpoena in court.
Perez Wadsworth continued that despite these attempts, they never received any substantive reply nor any meaningful explanation of the asserted basis for the subpoena.
The publication intends to fight the subpoena’s demand for identifying information about individuals who viewed the USA Today news report; being forced to tell the government who reads what on their websites is a clear violation of the First Amendment.
Also, USA Today has asked the court to quash the subpoena to protect the important relationship and trust between USA Today’s readers and their journalists.
The First Amendment
The First Amendment of the United Statement protects five forms of freedoms: religion, speech, assembly, press, and the right to petition the government.
The First Amendment protects the people against government limits on their freedom of expression, and this is what USA Today is pushing back with on the FBI’s subpoena.
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Written by Sophie Webster
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