Popular libertarian magazine Reason has been the subject of extraordinary and intrusive demands to hand over confidential information to the US government, highlighting a chilling attack on free speech.
It begun with requests for information to reveal the identities of a number of commenters on the Reason website. As Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch recount:
In the comments section of [a] post, six readers published reactions that drew the investigative ire of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. In a federal grand jury subpoena dated June 2, the U.S. District Court commanded Reason.com to turn over “any and all identifying information” we had about the individuals posting those comments.
This is the first time Reason.com has received such a subpoena from any arm of government.
From press accounts of similar actions at other news publications and social media sites, we know that it is increasingly common for the federal government to demand user information from publications and websites while also stifling their speech rights with gag orders and letters requesting “voluntary” confidentiality.
Simultaneously, Reason was requested, ironically, to “preserve the confidentiality” of the US Attorney’s investigation, which was ultimately followed by a gag order. In what would have been particularly galling for a publication dedicated to ‘free minds and free markets’, the order to hand over information was compounded with an order not to reveal to anyone that you have been forced to hand over information.
And all for the identity of “trollish” internet comments. How pointless.
Glenn Reynolds nailed it at USA Today:
But if it won’t support a prosecution, why gather this information? Bharara’s office isn’t talking, but I suspect that the purpose of this exercise is to chill speech: To send a signal that whether or not the First Amendment protects your right to talk smack about a federal judge, you’d be wise not to do so if you don’t want to attract the attention of the feds, who might choose to share your information with employers or the news media.
Read the extraordinary account from Reason here.