WASHINGTON – USA TODAY is battling an FBI subpoena demanding records that would identify readers of February story About a shooting in South Florida that killed two agents and injured three others.
In an application filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C. asking a judge to overturn the subpoena, Gannett, the parent company of USA TODAY, said the effort was not only unconstitutional, but also violated the Department of Justice’s own rules.
“The FBI has failed to demonstrate compliance with the United States Attorney’s regulations on subpoenas for the press — regulations that President Biden himself recently pledged the administration would follow,” Janet’s lawyers wrote in the lawsuit filed on May 28, just a day before the subpoena was due. The deadline set by the FBI for the media company to produce the records.
The subpoena, issued in April, required the production of records containing the IP addresses and other identifying information of “computers and other electronic devices” that reached the story within a 35-minute time frame beginning at 8:03 p.m. on the day of filming. .
“Forcing you to tell the government who’s reading what’s on our websites is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” Maribel Perez-Wadsworth, publisher of USA TODAY, said in a statement. “The FBI subpoena requests private information about our press readers.”
Wadsworth also said the subpoena was a surprise given President Joe Biden’s recent statements supporting the press and contradicting Justice Department guidelines on “narrow circumstances” in which the government can subpoena reporters.
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The subpoena, signed by an FBI agent in Maryland, said the records relate to a criminal investigation. But it’s unclear how USA TODAY readers’ records relate to the Florida shooting investigation, or why the FBI is so focused on the time frame.
Wadsworth said Gannett’s attorneys attempted to contact the FBI before and after the company fought the subpoena in court, but said the FBI had yet to provide any meaningful explanation for the basis of the subpoena.
The FBI and the Department of Justice declined to comment.
The shooting happened in the name of FBI agents were filing arrest warrants at the West Terrace apartment complex in Sunrise راي On the morning of February 2, authorities said David Hooper, 55, began shooting and holed up inside a unit before aiming the gun at himself.
Five FBI agents were shot. Two died – Daniel Alvin and Laura Schwarzenberger. Three were injured, two of whom are in hospital.
The subpoena comes amid criticism from media organizations after revelations that Trump’s Justice Department had secretly obtained reporters’ phone records from Washington Post, The The New York Times And the CNN.
News organizations condemned the seizures as violations of the First Amendment. Biden said the practice of obtaining correspondent records was “simply wrong.”
Department of Justice guidelines state that media subpoenas should be limited to requiring reporters to verify the accuracy of published information except under “emergency circumstances,” for example, when reporters might have information about a crime. The rules also require that the records required be necessary for investigation or prosecution.
The subpoena issued to Janet does not seek to identify the sources’ sources or other information collected during reporting.
In their filing, asking U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, Janet’s lawyers said it violated the rights of both the news organization and its readers, citing Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote 50 years ago, “provided that the publisher disclosed the identity of Whoever buys his books, pamphlets or papers is already the beginning of press control.”
Janet’s lawyers wrote that the demand for information that would identify the outlet’s readers “creates precisely the kind of chilling effect” Douglas warned about.