Gannett, the publisher, contends that demand for details on who accessed article violates the First Amendment.
Newspaper publisher Gannett is fighting an effort by the FBI to try to determine who read a specific USA Today story about a deadly shooting in February near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that left two FBI agents dead and three wounded. The subpoena, served on Gannett in April, seeks information about who accessed the news article online during a 35-minute window starting just after 8 p.m. on the day of the shootings. The demand — signed by a senior FBI agent in Maryland — does not appear to ask for the names of those who read the story, if the news outlet has such information. Instead, the subpoena seeks internet addresses and mobile phone information that could lead to the identities of the readers.
On February 2, FBI agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger were killed and three others were wounded when 55-year-old David Huber started shooting as they approached his apartment in Fort Lauderdale shortly after 6am.
He was suspected of possessing child porn, but the FBI has never revealed why. After killing the agents, he took his own life.
The FBI wants the phone numbers and IP addresses of everyone who clicked on the story during a 35-window that night, between 8.03pm and 8.38pm.
USA Today is fighting back, saying the order violates the First Amendment.
‘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,’ lawyers for Gannett, the company that owns USA Today, said.
They added said the subpoena’s vague reference to ‘a federal criminal investigation’ cannot ‘possibly justify such an abridgment of free speech.’
The FBI has not commented on the subpoena or on what grounds it should have the information.