The Department of Justice has sparked a fierce debate of First Amendment rights after it demanded the libertarian website Reason to help it track down six commenters who left threatening remarks.
“Its [sic] judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” wrote one commenter.
“Why waste the ammunition?” added another commenter. “Wood chippers get the message across clearly. Especially if you feed them in feet first.”
The online argument was in response to the federal judge who handed down a life sentence to Ross Ulbricht, founder of the virtual black market known as the Silk Road. Commenters were quick to voice their opinions, and some even issued death threats to the judge.
According to the DOJ, that’s a no-no and is not protected by free speech.
“The subpoena commands Reason to provide the grand jury and all identifying information Reason has about participants in what the subpoena calls a ‘chat,’” said Popehat’s Ken White.
Former Reason editor Virginia Postrel also weighed in on the issue, claiming the DOJ’s bold move to cross the First Amendment line shows that free speech can actually be quite expensive.
“Subpoenaing Reason’s website records, wasting its staff’s time and forcing it to pay legal fees in hopes of imposing even larger legal costs and possibly even a plea bargain (or two on the average Joes who dared to voice their dissident views in angry tones) sends an intimidating message: It’s dangerous not just to create something like Silk Road. It’s dangerous to defend it, and even more dangerous to attack those who would punish its creators,” said Postrel. “You may think you have free speech, but we’ll find a way to make you pay.”
Many believe that the legal elements required to constitute criminal threats do not exist in the online messages, pointing out that none of the messages included the judge’s name, and that there is indication they have any knowledge of where the judge lives, making it all but impossible for the threats to actually be carried out.
Both Reason and the DOJ declined to comment on the situation.
(This article was submitted by freelance writer Brent McCluskey)