So this is fun. Back in January, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson sent a subpoena to Room Eight, a local politics blog. The subpoena demanded "identifying details of a Room Eight blogger who wrote under the name 'Republican Dissident,' as well as the authors of a dozen comments on his posts." Are you alarmed yet? Here's the kicker: the subpoena was sealed, with an all-caps warning threatening prosecution if the contents of it were revealed. Now, six months later, the DA's finally given up. And we can all read about how a random functionary on the Bronx Board of Elections got the DA's office—without the DA's knowledge, according to Johnson!—to threaten to expose and prosecute an anonymous blogger and a dozen anonymous commenters, just for criticizing her. So yes the forces of good and anonymous online criticism won out this time. But here's why it's still scary:
More broadly, the scary reality is that here in the free speech capital of the world, a prosecutor tried both to demand confidential information about an anonymous critic and insisted, under penalty of law, that his request for the information be kept secret. We're glad he backed down, and confident that the courts would have rebuffed his demands.
But not every blogger will be lucky enough to find pro bono counsel like ours, and few can afford to pay for lawyers. In the meantime, we hope District Attorney Johnson will be able to provide more detailed answers to the unanswered questions in this case: Who ordered this investigation of a political critic to be opened? Did it proceed through the usual channels – a complaint filed with the New York Police Department, for instance – or through the D.A.'s political operatives? The chilling threat to an important new form of speech demands that the D.A. take these questions seriously, or if he doesn't, that a credible outside