FBI ordered US newspaper to pass on information about its readers for a case

FBI ordered US newspaper to pass on information about its readers for a case

The subpoena asks for information about anyone who clicked on the article for a period of about 35 minutes on the day after the sho-oting. It seeks the IP addresses – which can sometimes be used to identify the location of a computer, the company or organisation it belongs to, and where it was registered – along with mobile phone identification information of the readers.

While the subpoena does not ask specifically for the names of those who read the story, such identification information could easily lead agents to the readers.

It is unclear why the FBI was seeking information about the USA Today story in particular, even though numerous other news organisations, including The Associated Press, had reported extensively on the Florida sho-oting, one of the bloodiest days in the FBI’s history.

The suspect opened fire on the agents when they arrived to serve a search warrant in a child exploitation case. The two agents, Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger, were kil-led and three others were wounded.

The FBI agent who signed the subpoena to Gannett has worked for years on child exploitation cases and has testified in several criminal cases related to child pornography offences, according to newspaper accounts and other public records.

The subpoena – first reported by Politico – says the information is needed as part of a criminal investigation. Federal officials would not provide additional details about the investigation.

The actions of the FBI have been criticised by free speech activists who have called for more protection for journalists.

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said: “This is an extraordinary demand that goes to the very heart of the First Amendment. For good reason, the courts have generally refused to give the government access to this kind of sensitive information except in the most unusual circumstances.

He added: “This subpoena, especially when viewed alongside the subpoenas that the Justice Department served under the Trump administration in an effort to obtain journalists’ records, strongly suggests we need more robust protection for records that implicate the freedoms of speech and the press.” 

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