After the “underwear bomber” attempted to set off a small explosive on an airline on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued a memorandum regarding new security procedures for screening at terminals. That memo was circulated to 10,000 or more personnel at airports and was then leaked to at least two bloggers, who posted it on their sites.
The TSA then moved to investigate the leak and immediately drew attention and outrage from the public when it targeted the two journalist bloggers with subpoenas demanding they reveal their sources for the leaked memos. Wired Magazine picked up the story and was on hand during one of those interviews, with travel writer Steven Frischling.
The writers, Chris Elliot of Winter Springs, Florida and Steve Frischling of Connecticut, were served with subpoenas and threatened with legal measures and job loss if they didn’t comply. Firschling complied and allowed the agents to copy his hard drive while Elliot refused and responded with a lawyer and threat to contest the subpoena in court.
Both bloggers published the leaked memo within minutes of one another and both were approached by TSA agents at about the same time. Since then, both have received phone calls from the TSA informing them that the case was being closed and the subpoenas against them were being withdrawn, according to the Associated Press.
Wired confirms this withdrawal of subpoenas, but also interviews Frischling who says his computer is all but useless now that the TSA has given it back. It’s full of bad sectors, glitches, non-working components, and worse.
New questions were raised about whether Google received a subpoena, since one of the blogs is hosted by Blogger, a Google-owned company. SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan writes about the history of Google in court with these issues and it’s not always good news for privacy advocates.
The real issue here may be how the new world of mostly-independent bloggers and journalists can be protected from heavy-handed government agencies. Doug Fisher at Commonsensej asks these questions and gives his ideas for solutions. Without the huge legal department at a giant news agency, many journalists today are finding themselves without much recourse to fight back when agents such as these from the TSA approach them with threats and implied legal problems if they don’t comply with investigator’s wishes.
As technology changes and news reporting with it, government (always generally 10 years behind) will not likely be able to confront this issue. Many cooperatives and journalistic groups have come together to build legal funds and membership benefits for protection to replace the now-crumbling huge media outlets and their legal clout.
I think this is a good thing and the overall incident with the TSA memo (which can hardly be said to have been “leaked” when it was sent to over 10,000 people as an open memo) highlights how today’s independent journalist is vulnerable. The Internet has changed almost everything about our lives, including how we get our news and who reports it. Other things are going to have to change with it.