The legal travails of Room Eight, a blog dedicated to NY politics (its name refers to "Room 9," which is where the press corps are located in City Hall), are examined in today's NY Times. In a nutshell, Bronx DA Robert Johnson's office subpoenaed the blog's co-founders Ben Smith and Gur Tsabar, demanding the IP address of an anonymous contributor. And what's more, they were not allowed to even disclose the existence of the subpoena of they “could impede the investigation being conducted and thereby interfere with law enforcement."
The subpoena related to information about a blogger--Republican Dissident--who was critical of the Bronx GOP and recommended someone run against DA Johnson. When Smith and Tsabar asked for more information about why the subpoena was needed, they were given none--Smith told the Times he's not averse to helping the authorities, but "Was somebody found face-down on their keyboard and the I.P. address was going to help identify the killer?...We’re not free speech absolutists here." So they sued with the help of a pro bono legal organization and the subpoena eventually withdrawn. Today, Smith and Tsabar write on Room 8:
"The district attorney’s office refused to offer any details of their investigation, leaving us with the concern that the crime they were investigating was the criticism itself, most of which involved linking – with harsh, at times mean, caricatures – to news stories and to publicly available documents, like a deed in [Republican Dawn] Sandow’s name to a house outside the Bronx.The blogger, Republican Dissident, eventually removed all the blog posts from the site.
"We don’t have any position on Republican Dissident’s views or his style of expressing them. We do, however, feel very strongly that he has a right to do so without fear of exposure in an investigation that – as far as we know – appears to have concerned nothing beyond his online political speech...
"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."
Daily Gotham's Bouldin thinks Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should investigate the matter and the Observer's Azi Paybarah writes, "What in the world was Johnson (and, certainly, the A.D.A who wrote up the subpoena) thinking?"