Gannett, the publisher of USA Today, is reportedly resisting a legal effort by the FBI to find out who read a specific article.
The article in question is titled, “FBI identifies 2 agents killed in Florida while serving warrant in crimes against children case,” and was published on February 2, 2021. The piece discussed a Fort Lauderdale shooting which left two FBI agents dead and three wounded.
“Two FBI agents were killed and three were wounded in a shooting early Tuesday while agents were serving a warrant in a child exploitation case in Florida, according to the FBI. The suspect died of an apparent self-inflicted gun shot wound, a person familiar with the matter said,” reported USA Today at the time. “Authorities are investigating whether the suspect had cameras rigged at the apartment to provide an outside view of people who might be approaching at the time of the incident, said the source, who is not authorized to comment publicly.”
According to Politico, the FBI served a subpoena to USA Today’s publisher in April, which “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 for information is “signed by a senior FBI agent in Maryland,” and asks for internet addresses and mobile phone information that could then be used to identify specific readers. The FBI is claiming that this information “relates to a federal criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI.”
In a filing in U.S. District Court, lawyers for USA Today’s publisher, Gannett, accused the FBI of violating the First Amendment in its demand. Politico reported that Gannett’s legal team “also complained that the FBI appears to have ignored the Justice Department’s policy for seeking information from the media.”
“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,” Gannett attorneys Charles Tobin and Maxwell Mishkin wrote on behalf of USA Today.
Gannett’s motion was filed on May 28, just one day before the FBI’s response deadline. “The motion was made public by U.S. District Court in Washington on Thursday,” added Politico. “The case has been assigned to Judge James Boasberg, an appointee of President Barack Obama.”
This news comes as the Obama, Trump, and now Biden administration face scrutiny for engaging in and defending the seizure of journalistic records, such as phone records.
“We were surprised to receive this subpoena particularly in light of President Biden’s recent statements in support of press freedom,” USA Today publisher Maribel Perez Wadsworth said in a statement, as reported by The Verge. “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.”
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