ACLU Criticizes Secret Service Investigation of News Website That Posted RNC Delegates' Names

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
August 30, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU is Defending Web Host and Others Sought Through Grand Jury Subpoena

NEW YORK – In a letter sent today in response to a grand jury subpoena issued by the Secret Service, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union said they are representing a web hosting service and administrators of an independent media website regarding the anonymous posting of publicly available information about delegates to the Republican National Convention.

The groups said the investigation is but the latest example of government agencies using law enforcement powers to chill free speech and intimidate protesters.

“This type of investigation is really a form of intimidation and a message to activists that they will pay a price for speaking out,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson. “The posting of publicly available information about people who are in the news should not trigger an investigation. Indeed, if the mere posting of the delegates’ name is cause for alarm, then the Secret Service should be investigating the many Republican websites where the same kind of information is available.”

Beeson added that the posting did not include anything remotely threatening, but involved political speech fully protected by the First Amendment. is the website of the Independent Media Center, a collective of independent media organizations and journalists.

The ACLU and NYCLU are also defending Calyx Internet Access, a web hosting service for the Indymedia website. Last week, Calyx’s president, Nicholas Merrill, received a grand jury subpoena to turn over contact information for Indymedia. Merrill said that he contacted the four men he knew of — and the ACLU — upon receiving the subpoena, and the men agreed that Calyx could provide their information because they had nothing to hide. In fact, the men are not responsible for posting the delegate names, and it is not clear who is, because Indymedia has an anonymous posting policy.

In its letter to the Secret Service today, the ACLU provided the e-mail addresses of the four Indymedia administrators — Matt Toups, Brian Szymanski, Micah Anderson and one man who prefers not to be named publicly — and advised the agency that they are representing them in any formal or informal questioning of them or Merrill.

In a statement issued today, Toups, a 22-year-old undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University, said: “”The right of an author to choose anonymity is an important part of what Indymedia stands for because we work to create a safe space for dissenting views. Unfortunately, the United States is becoming an increasingly repressive and chilling environment for free speech, thanks to government harassment like the recent attempts to question Indymedia and other activist groups in New York for the Republican National Convention.””

Beeson said she found it ironic that the Secret Service subpoena said that the men were sought in connection with an investigation of voter intimidation. “The only intimidation taking place here is the Secret Service intimidating people who speak out against the government,” she said. “”Unfortunately, the Secret Service has a very recent history of preventing Americans from exercising their First Amendment rights.””

Last year, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit against the Secret Service over the agency’s practice of forcing activists into remote “protest zones” during Bush administration events, while allowing pro-Bush supporters to remain in close proximity. A judge dismissed the case after the agency insisted that the practice was not a matter of policy and agreed that such a policy would violate important free speech rights protected under the Constitution. The ACLU is still investigating complaints of restrictions against protesters.

In recent weeks, the ACLU and its affiliates around the country have received complaints that law enforcement officials throughout the U.S. have been monitoring activists they believe are planning to protest at major national political events, including the Republican National Convention in New York, which has already drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters.

In Missouri, the ACLU is defending three activists who were subpoenaed as part of an investigation by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. The men, who have no history of violent activity, were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury on July 29, which prevented them from traveling to Boston to protest at the Democratic National Convention as they had planned. For more on that story, go to /node/11700

In addition to Beeson, the five men in today’s case are represented by Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU and Arthur Eisenberg, Legal Director of the NYCLU.

The Secret Service subpoena is online at: /node/35456

The ACLU letter to the Secret Service is online at: /node/35457

Statements from the web host and three of the Indymedia administrators are online here:

Micah Anderson – /node/9113
Nicholas Merrill – /node/9138
Brian Szymanski – /node/9137
Matt Toups – /node/9139

The Indymedia posting in question is online at:

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