Tuesday, July 15, 2008

And when they came for the bloggers, no one was home

You know there is a series of books and probably a television show on the theme of "what would you do to survive X" where X is something dreadful most of us would expect to kill us. X is things like a shark attack, a lion stalking you, your car going into a skid on an icy road, the elevator you are in suddenly snapping its cables etc.

Here is a modern media problem: you get a subpoena about the forum or blog you run, requesting the identities of commenters or posters ... and you are under threat of jail if you even reveal that you have been asked to reveal names. What would you do to survive that? Its not a hypothetical question.

In the case of the operators of the website Room 8, a forum for talking about NYC politics, the game played out thusly...
This, of course, is a blogger’s nightmare: enforced silence and the prospect of jail time. The district attorney eventually withdrew the subpoena and lifted the gag requirement after the bloggers threatened to sue. But the fact that the tactic was used at all raised alarm bells for some free speech advocates.

So maybe you could sue the DA, but the "but" in that paragraph tells you that if you blog or even just comment on blogs, you might want to read the article and learn how to cover your ass. Beware of the advice you find linked in the article however: the date on their linked technology story is 2006. Check around for more up-to-date software for identity protection. The feds probably do not have to be as overt at the DA in New York...they don't need a warrant or a subpoena, they can just bust in to your packets and see who is saying what to whom. For instance, don't you suppose then Attorney General Alberto Gonzo sorely wanted to subpoena anyone who was in touch with Paul Kiel and Justin Rood around Jan. of 2007?

I find it oddly incompetent or naive of Mr. Smith, one of the proprietors of Room 8, that he runs web site yet doesn't know what the police would want with an IP address. If you use, for instance, sitemeter.com, to count the hits on your blog, poke around in the user interface to the stats. Even if you don't pay for the service you get the first three fields of the IP, the portion that maps to a domain usually. If you pay, you get to see the full server log entry and it would tell exactly which machine if the user was not using some kind of cloaking measure. The ISP will mask the location, maybe even lie about the town just to protect the privacy of its customers from stalkers but trust me, the ISP can be pressured to provide the correct details and now that the carriers are immune from lawsuit or prosecution for privacy violations, how long until ISP's get the same dispensation. You know a democratic congress including a certain democratic senator running for president passed the present swiss cheese version of FISA. I think means the imminent departure of Bush guarantees no rights in this matter.

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