Grand Jury Subpoena Issued To Identify Site’s Visitors

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Judge Katherine ForrestThe Department of Justice just issued a subpoena to Reason.com asking the site to reveal the identity of six visitors who “threatened” the Silk Road judge, Katherine Forrest. The comments called for violence against the Silk Road judge following her ruling that Ross Ulbricht should spend the rest of his life in prison. Reason.com is a libertarian site, and the six targeted users disagreed with Silk Road judge’s ruling, generally claiming that such judges should be “taken out back and shot”.

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It is not clear whether the trollish comments should be taken as serious threats to the judge or as jokes, but the law enforcement, apparently, is not taking any chances. The comments have since been deleted from the site, where they were posted in connection to the story on Ulbricht’s sentencing with a generally unfavorable view on the way the judge handed out the sentence in the Silk Road case. In the subpoena, Reason.com has been asked to provide information about the six users, including IP addresses, account information, email addresses, phone numbers, billing information, and devices associated with them. The justification for the subpoena, as far as the law enforcers are concerned, is that the US criminal code forbids “mailing of threatening communications”. The felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Obviously, such moves by the law enforcement leave the average Internet user quite exposed to government action for any information posted online. The form of self-censorship this introduces also limits freedom of speech under the First Amendment, whereby only “true threats” are exempted. The “threats” on the Silk Road judge clearly do not fall under this category. The comments posted on Reason.com with regard to the Silk Road case are nothing out of the ordinary, and there is no reason to believe that the hearer would take them seriously, which is what would make them “true threats” and not just overzealous or reckless statements undeserving of criminal investigation.

Clearly, the issuance of the subpoena based on these comments on the Silk Road ruling is an indication that law enforcers are willing to track you down for just about anything, constitutional justification notwithstanding. The only solution is to protect yourself using a VPN, and then using anonymous names. A VPN can be used to encrypt communications when using the Internet. Therefore, when you post comments that law enforcers might decide to pursue you for, you would be completely protected and have nothing to worry about. If the six users being pursued for their hyperbolic expression of their dissatisfaction with Silk Road judge’s ruling had used VPNs as well as anonymous names, they would have nothing to worry about with regard to the subpoena.

Reason.comThe subpoena demands their IP addresses, names and other identifying information, which an unprotected site visitor would have submitted to Reason.com as they posted their comments. For instance, a VPN changes your IP address so that you seem like you are in a different country to anyone trying to track you down. Therefore, anybody would not be able to track you down because the information they obtain about your online communications would lead them to a false location.

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