Utah Internet Service Provider (ISP) XMission courageously refuses to provide the government with records containing personal information about its users without a warrant. Under Utah law, the office of the attorney general is able to request records via an “administrative subpoena,” which (unlike a warrant) need not be signed by a judge. The founder of XMission, Pete Ashdown, believes these subpoenas violate the Fourth Amendment. Ashdown is right, and there’s much at stake in this row.
Naturally, the debate over these administrative subpoenas has been framed around the issue of fighting child pornography, a tactic which bolsters the government’s argument since few are willing to criticize a practice aimed at the Hillary-esque it-takes-a-village imperative of “protecting the children.” The trouble with such efforts to rescue said children is that child pornography won’t be the last or only target of these laws. Unpopular political speech is next on the list, and was likely the state’s real goal anyway. The state could assert that certain kinds of political speech harm the mental development of children during their formative years, after all.
Take, for instance, Twitter’s recent decision to cave to pressure from the French government and, in turn, special interest groups (also known as NGOs) to hand over the identities of users accused of sending “racist” tweets (as defined by those NGOs, of course). We’ve all seen how language can be twisted by forces seeking to malign the defenders of liberty, and if they’re attacking the Fourth Amendment now, it won’t be long until they come for the First.
Advocates of the warrantless subpoenas claim that only “metadata” can be obtained in this manner. Where have we heard that one before? Metadata can be more revealing than one might first suspect, however. For example, in a steampunk-inspired alternate reality circa 1776 envisioned by professor Kieran Healy, the British would have been able to employ a “difference engine” (basically an analog version of a computer) to identify and pick up a central figure like Paul Revere, merely by analyzing the names and locations of his associates on a grid. That’s certainly one way to nip a revolution in the bud.
Ashdown’s act of “personal secession” is commendable, particularly when placed in contrast with Twitter’s failure. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that XMission is a smaller, local entity, and therefore an inherently friendlier space for liberty. The marketplace is advised to vote with its dollars accordingly.
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