The FBI is asking USA Today to disclose data about the readers of a Feb. 2 story about a gunfight between a man suspected of having child porn and two FBI agents in which two agents were killed.
The subpoena issued by the FBI does not explain why the FBI wants the information other than to say it will aid in the investigation of the incident, in which David Huber, 55, took his own life after agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger were killed and three other agents were wounded.
The shootout at Huber’s Fort Lauderdale apartment took place at about 6 a.m., long before the window of time in which the FBI is interested and more than three hours before the story was even published.
The subpoena does not ask for names of those who accessed the story, according to Politico.
USA Today, which is owned by Gannett, is fighting back.
“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 said in their response, according to Politico.
The reference to “a federal criminal investigation” does not “possibly justify such an abridgment of free speech,” the lawyers wrote, according to the Daily Mail.
The FBI has offered no comments about the subpoena, or the parameters of the investigation that continues even after Huber’s death.
USA Today publisher Maribel Perez Wadsworth issued a statement saying the newspaper will continue to fight the subpoena, according to The Washington Post.
“Being forced to tell the government who reads what on our websites is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” she said.
“The FBI’s subpoena asks for private information about the readers of our journalism. We have asked the court to quash the subpoena to protect the important relationship and trust between USA Today’s readers and our journalists.”
She noted that the subpoena runs contrary to Justice Department rules that usually ask for records related to an investigation through a collaborative approach instead of simply demanding them.
“The subpoena is also contrary to the Justice Department’s own guidelines concerning the narrow circumstances in which subpoenas can be issued to the news media,” she said.
“Our attorneys attempted to contact the FBI before we moved to fight the subpoena in court and afterward. Despite these attempts, we never received any substantive reply nor any meaningful explanation of the asserted basis for the subpoena,” she said.
The subpoena was issued in April and gave the newspaper until May 28 to reply.
In its reporting, Politico noted that “It’s unclear whether the FBI might suspect someone else of involvement with Huber’s activities or whether someone drew suspicion by the way they reacted to the shooting.”
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