Friday, February 12, 2016

Corbett subpoenas Twitter for critics' names

State Attorney General Tom Corbett wants to know who's saying bad things about him in fewer than 140 characters:

Corbett subpoenas Twitter for critics' names

Attorney General Tom Corbett during a forum in March.  The candidate for Pennsylvania governor is seeking to pierce the veil of anonymity of Twitter posts with a subpoena. ( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )
Attorney General Tom Corbett during a forum in March. The candidate for Pennsylvania governor is seeking to pierce the veil of anonymity of Twitter posts with a subpoena. ( Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer )

State Attorney General Tom Corbett wants to know who's saying bad things about him in fewer than 140 characters:

[Corbett] subpoenaed Twitter, asking that it hand over the “name, address, contact information, creation date, creation Internet Protocol address and any and all log in Internet Protocol address” associated with two Twitter accounts, @bfbarbie and @casablancaPA, which have only 68 and 123 followers, respectively [as of Wednesday night, 124 and 206].

Both accounts have posted Tweets critical of the gubernatorial candidate. Are they enough to warrant subpoenas to discover their identities? Some items have claimed Corbett mixes campaign work with taxpayer business. Recent examples:

@casablancapa: “Is it wrong to mix campaign work with taxpayer business? Apparently not when Tom Corbett does it #bonusgate #pagovrace”

More coverage
Onorato: Corbett's Twitter Subpoena "Completely Outrageous"
(Update) Pa.'s AG seeks to unmask Twitter posters
UPDATED: Tom Corbett's stunning abuse of power
Should Tweets be protected as free speech by the First Amendment?
  1042 (93.2%)
  76 (6.8%)
Total votes = 1118

@casablancapa: Corbett: it's unethical to investigate political supporters. But only for other prosecutors. #bonusgate @pagovrace

@bfbarbie: Corbett erupts at campaign event; security tries to eject questioner #bonusgate can you say LOSER????

The "casablancapa" account is tied to a pseudonymous blog critical of Corbett, which posts a lot of detail about Bonusgate. The Tweeter tells TechCrunch: "We believe this is more about the blog than the Tweets. We have not received notification of a subpoena to Blogger, so we really don’t know. We are seeking legal representation and plan to ask Twitter not to comply."

You can read the subpoena below (as posted here). It demands the information because of "alleged violations of the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

Whether and when it's OK for a court to order the release of an anonymous online poster's identity is still a developing area of the law. But we wonder if this benefits Corbett in any case. If he's successful, the best-case scenario is that he will have the names of two people who don't think he should be governor. Two people with a combined audience of fewer than 400 people (a number that Corbett himself has vastly inflated by issuing a subpoena).

There are millions of people who don't think he should be governor — and millions who think he should. Is there something special about these two? We might find out.

UPDATE: The story has taken a new twist, with the Post-Gazette reporting that Corbett's office believes CasablancaPA is being run by Brett Cott, a former legislative aide just convicted in the unfolding Bonusgate scandal. In court filings, two assistant attorneys general argue the blog demonstrates that Cott is deflecting blame and denying responsibility for the crimes of which he's been convicted. They are seeking a longer-than-normal sentence and basing their argument on that.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley told Politico that the attorney general didn't issue the subpoena because the Twitter users have been critical of Corbett and said it was issued as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. But he declined to go into further detail.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has thrown itself into the fray, saying it will move to quash the subpoena if it can't reach a negotiated settlement with Corbett. And Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato, who will face Corbett in the fall gubernatorial election, has accused him of misusing his office.

Twitter subpoena

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