The FBI is trying to obtain a list of IP addresses, phone numbers, and other information on people who read an article in USA Today about the deaths of two of its clients.
The subpoena says it is related to a criminal investigation and seeks information from readers who accessed the article in a specified 35-minute time period, but it is unclear who or what the bureau is trying to track down. Unconstitutional.
The newspaper said, “We were particularly surprised to receive this subpoena in light of President Biden’s recent statements in support of press freedom.” Maribel Perez-Wadsworth, publisher of USA Today, said in a statement cited by The Verge, that the subpoena also goes against the Department of Justice’s guidance regarding the circumstances. The narrowness in which subpoenas can be issued to the media.
The article in question was one published on February 2, 2021, about a shootout that occurred when FBI agents attempted a search warrant in a child pornography case, resulting in the deaths of two FBI agents and a suspect, a subpoena request that was filled out by an agent. Special to the FBI, a large amount of information about devices accessed the article from 7:03 PM ET to 7:38 PM ET the evening it was published.
It is not clear why the request was made, given that the suspect described in the article by the time the article was published was reported dead, whatever the FBI is looking for, USA Today says in court filing that the request violates the First Amendment, citing multiple rulings. From previous cases in which the government was not allowed access to similar records, he also argues that the FBI’s access to the public records of someone who has read a story can affect his journalistic efforts.
Perez Wadsworth said in the statement that USA Today’s attorneys attempted to contact the FBI before moving forward to fight the subpoena in court.
“Despite these attempts, we have never received an objective response or any meaningful explanation of the substantiated basis for the subpoena,” she said. “We intend to fight the subpoena request to determine information about individuals who viewed the USA TODAY news report. Our websites is a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
She added that USA Today asked the court to cancel the subpoena “to protect the important relationship and trust between USA TODAY readers and our journalists.”