USA Today fights FBI on Subpoena targeting readers

NEW YORK – FEBRUARY, 2020: Man reading USA Today newspaper.

USA Today is battling the FBI’s effort to subpoena information on readers. According to reports, a senior FBI official from Maryland, is asking the news agency for information to determine who was accessing a specific story on the USA Today website about a deadly shooting that took place that day near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That shooting left two FBI agents dead and three wounded. The agents were attempting to arrest an alleged child pornographer David Huber, 55, when the suspect opened fire on the agents.

According to reports, the FBI is trying to determine who accessed  a specific online article during a 35-minute window starting just after 8 p.m. on the day of the shootings. The full scope of the subpoena is not clear and the FBI has not disclosed the reason as to why they are seeking personal data of so many USA Today readers but the news agency says it violates the privacy of its readers.

The subpoena doesn’t seek the names of individuals but it does seek internet addresses and mobile phone information. That information, of course, could lead to the identities of the readers and is the reason why the newspaper is fighting the FBI’s request.

Gannett’s lawyers say the subpoena violates the First Amendment and the publishers complained in a court filing that the bureau ignored the Justice Department’s policy for obtaining information from the media.

From Politico:

In a filing in U.S. District Court in Washington, lawyers for Gannett said the demand violates the First Amendment. They also complained that the FBI appears to have ignored the Justice Department’s policy for seeking information from the media.

“A government demand for records that would identify specific individuals who read specific expressive materials, like the Subpoena at issue here, invades the First Amendment rights of both publisher and reader, and must be quashed accordingly,” attorneys Charles Tobin and Maxwell Mishkin wrote on behalf of Gannett.


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