The Department of Justice has ordered libertarian website Reason.com to turn over the information of six commenters after they made threats against the federal judge who presided over the Silk Road trial.
Ken White of the blog Popehat obtained the grand jury subpoena issued by the Department of Justice last week, which demands "any and all identifying information” the website has pertaining to the threatening commenters. This includes email addresses, telephone numbers, IP addresses, and billing information associated with the accounts.
The subpoena targets users who commented on an article published on May 31st regarding a letter from Ross Ulbricht, the creator of online drug market Silk Road, pleading for leniency ahead of his sentencing for charges surrounding the site. The comments appeared after Judge Katherine Forrest gave Ulbricht two life sentences for his crimes.
“It’s judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” a user named Agammamon wrote, according to the filing.
The comments are "very clearly not true threats"
“It’s judges like these that will be taken out back and shot. FTFY [fixed that for you].” a user named Alan replied (emphasis in the subpoena). Another user added: “Why do it out back? Shoot them out front, on the steps of the courthouse.”
According to the subpoena, representatives from the Reason.com were compelled to appear in a New York court Tuesday at 10 AM ET if it did not produce the requested documents before then. It is unclear if they appeared in court or gave upany information they might have about users, as Reason.com declined Motherboard’s request for comment.
This isn’t the first time Forrest has been targeted for her work in this case. Back in October, a death threat against Forrest was posted on the dark web after she dismissed motions that would have worked in Ulbricht’s favor. Her alleged social security number, date of birth, and address were also posted at the time, and may still be on the dark web months later.
The Department of Justice declined to explain how, exactly, it was alerted to the threatening comments on Reason.com, but a representative told Motherboard that “the US Marshal Service goal is ensure the safe and secure operation of the federal judiciary.”
“We do not discuss in detail our specific security measures or investigative procedures,” the representative said in an email. “However, we constantly assess our security posture and are ready to respond and actively investigate all threats and inappropriate communications.”
Ulbricht’s defense team declined to comment on the subpoena and comments, but has condemned similar threats in the past.
As White wrote at Popehat, the subpoena was issued under the same statute at the heart of a Supreme Court case decided last week: a federal law against interstate threats. The Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling in the case of Elonis v. U.S., saying the government has to prove someone is serious about online threats before convicting them. However, it gave no instruction on how to decide if the threat someone is making is true.
It’s hard to say if the trollish commenters on Reason.com were serious about putting a federal judge "in a wood chipper"—for what it’s worth, White wrote the comments are “very clearly not true threats.” But it’s clear the government is monitoring comments online, at least when they affect powerful federal judges.