The Slatest

USA Today Fights FBI Effort to Obtain IP Addresses of People Who Read an Article

The front page of a USA Today newspaper is seen at a convenience store in Washington, DC, on August 6, 2019.
The front page of a USA Today newspaper is seen at a convenience store in Washington, DC, on August 6, 2019. ALASTAIR PIKE/Getty Images

Update at 4:15 p.m.: The FBI has withdrawn the subpoena demanding information from USA Today that would help identify readers of a February story. The person the agency was trying to locate was found by other means, according to the Justice Department.

Original post: The FBI is trying to get the information of everyone who read a specific USA Today article at a specific time as part of an investigation. The FBI issued a subpoena demanding the IP addresses and mobile identification information that would pinpoint those who accessed a Feb. 2 article about a shooting that killed two agents and wounded three others as they tried to serve a warrant in Florida. The subpoena, which demanded the information of those who accessed the story during a 35-minute window starting at 8:03 p.m. on the day of the shooting, was issued in April but only became public recently as Gannett, USA Today’s parent company, fought it in court.

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The subpoena said the information was needed as part of a criminal investigation but didn’t specify why it was needed. The FBI also said USA Today had to keep in under wraps “indefinitely.” In its legal filing asking a judge to nix the subpoena, Gannett said it was unconstitutional and failed to follow the Justice Department’s own guidelines on seeking information from the media. “The FBI has failed to demonstrate compliance with the United States Attorney General’s regulations for subpoenas to the press—regulations that President Biden himself recently pledged the Administration would follow,” the company’s lawyers wrote.

USA Today publisher Maribel Perez Wadsworth said that forcing a news outlet to “tell the government who reads what on our websites is a clear violation of the First Amendment.” She said that the company is fighting the subpoena “to protect the important relationship and trust between USA Today’s readers and our journalists.”

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The article in question had to do with what happened when agents tried to serve a warrant at an apartment in Sunrise, Fla. They had tied the apartment to an IP address that was suspected of possessing child pornography. The man inside, David Lee Huber, opened fire through the door and killed Special Agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger before killing himself.

The revelation of the subpoena comes at a time when the Justice Department has been under heavy criticism for its efforts during former President Donald Trump’s administration to obtain phone records of journalists. Last month, President Joe Biden said he wouldn’t allow that practice to take place under his administration. “Absolutely, positively, it’s wrong,” Biden said.

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