News aggregator Indymedia.us recently received a request from the US Department of Justice demanding website visitor information. This would make sense on some level if the DOJ was investigating criminal activity from, say, forum posters or commentors who may be inciting violence or making threats. What makes this particular request interesting, is that the DOJ requested broad user information for everyone that visited a particular website on a specific day. Will requests like these become a daily occurrence in the future, or will the government eventually mandate that all web traffic logs be saved and forwarded to some sort of new internet thought police agency for review? Given how things have been progressing in this country for the last decade, we would not be surprised with either.
In the not so distant future, if something is deemed controversial or inappropriate by a bureaucrat in DC, you may become a suspect or ‘person of interest’ just by choosing to click a link, even if you don’t read what’s on the page.
In a case that raises questions about online journalism and privacy rights, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a formal request to an independent news site ordering it to provide details of all reader visits on a certain day.
The grand jury subpoena also required the Philadelphia-based Indymedia.us Web site “not to disclose the existence of this request” unless authorized by the Justice Department, a gag order that presents an unusual quandary for any news organization.
The subpoena (PDF) from U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis demanded “all IP traffic to and from www.indymedia.us” on June 25, 2008. It instructed Clair to “include IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information,” including e-mail addresses, physical addresses, registered accounts, and Indymedia readers’ Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and so on.