Pennsylvania Attorney General Subpoena’s Twitter For Identity Of Anonymous Critics

twitter-logoTom Corbett, Pennsylvania’s current Attorney General and, as of last night, the Republican nominee for Governor, has issued a subpoena to Twitter for the identity of two users who have been critical of him:

Tom Corbett, current Attorney General of the state of Pennsylvania and Gubernatorial Candidate, has subpoenaed Twitter to appear as a Grand Jury witness to “testify and give evidence regarding alleged violations of the laws of Pennsylvania”.

The subpoena orders Twitter to provide “any and all subscriber information” of the person(s) behind two accounts — @bfbarbie and @CasaBlancaPA — who have been anonymously criticizing the man on the popular micro-sharing service.

According to the subpoena (embedded below), the information that Twitter is ordered to provide includes “name, address, contact information, creation date, creation Internet Protocol address and any and all log in Internet Protocol address”.

A Twitter representative was supposed to appear as a witness before the Pennsylvania Statewide Investigation Grand Jury on Friday, May 14. We’ve asked the company to comment, but a Twitter spokesperson said they don’t comment on legal matters. We’re still waiting to hear back from Corbett’s office.

The subpoena appears to be connected to allegations that Corbett to allegations of improper payments to vendors by the Attorney General’s office and a lawsuit that was filed in 2008.

Among the Tweets that apparently started this:

– “Is it wrong to mix campaign work with taxpayer business? Apparently not when Tom Corbett does it bonusgate #pagovrace” (tweet, blog post)

– “Corbett erupts at campaign event; security tries to eject questioner #bonusgate #pagovrace” (tweet, blog post)

– “Quiz! Who sputters with indignation over failure to recuse from cases involving contributors? #bonusgate #pagovrace” (tweet, blog post)

Its’s unclear exactly what Corbett is after here, but it’s apparently connected to an anonymous anti-Corbett blog because there are reports that Blogger has also been subpoenaed for information relating to authorship. Whether it’s Twitter or the blog that Corbett is really after, though, this seems like an extreme case over over-reaching by a politician who can’t handle criticism.

Update: Eugene Volokh gives this a little more legal perspective:

[T]his is a grand jury subpoena, so presumably the theory is that the subpoenas are relevant to some criminal investigation. My sense is that one should be able to quash such a subpoena as well, if there is no legally sufficient basis for the investigation, or for the conclusion that the information would be relevant to the investigation. Yet that requires us to know what is being investigated. It can’t be an investigation of libel, since Pennsylvania doesn’t have a criminal libel statute. In principle, since some tweets from the relevant twitterers might be read as accusing Corbett of criminal misconduct, the twitterers’ identities might be relevant so they could be asked for further evidence of such misconduct. But I have no reason to think that Corbett is indeed being so investigated.

So this looks like an interesting case; I hope Twitter does move to quash the subpoena, so we can get some better sense of whether the subpoena indeed has a legal basis.

Copy of subpoena below

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Grand Jury Subpoena

H/T: Brooklyn Roberts

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Law and the Courts, Science & Technology, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. steve says:

    I had to re-read this. I thought it was about Karzai or Maliki. Then, I read it is about the Attorney General of my state. It is early in the campaign so voters will forget about this, but I hope we get more details and if this is as bad as it sounds, gets aborted now.

    Steve

  2. Triumph says:

    Whether it’s Twitter or the blog that Corbett is really after, though, this seems like an extreme case over over-reaching by a politician who can’t handle criticism.

    Give me a break. This is no worse than anything Clinton did during his presidency.

    Corbett is a patriot and should be commended for taking a stance.

  3. Corbett is a patriot and should be commended for taking a stance.

    Dare I ask your basis for saying that ?

  4. tom p says:

    Doug, read triumph, read sarcasm.

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    Doug, read triumph, read sarcasm.

    What? Triumph is the only real conservative on this site, stop your lies!!!!

    All them black Russians who use that foreign language of the twitty’s to talk behind a true patriots back should be hauled in front of a court and then sent back to their home country in Africa!!!!!

    That’s pretty mean you guys, hire a new blogger and don’t tell them about Triumph…lol

    At the place were I used to build cranes we would tell the new guys to go to the supply room and get us a box of quarter inch holes:)