* Nate Anderson has a great story, much of it generated by FOIAs, of how the mayor of Peoria hounded a Twitter user via the state’s attorney and the local police. Go read the whole thing. Part of his conclusion…
The case serves as a reminder of the true power of the state. Thanks to the Internet, even local cops can now track down random Twitter miscreants without leaving the office—something that would have been impossible in the days of anonymous handbills plastered to brick walls around town. And those local cops can get as much information about your life as even the FBI could glean in a major felony investigation.
In this case, Peoria police had complete details of Daniel’s Twitter account usage along with cell phones and computers seized from his house. In addition, the police swore out a fourth warrant on April 17—two days after the raid—for Daniel’s Gmail account. The warrant sought not just connection details, but all content in the account, including “any image file, document files, text files, and other stored files.” Police had broad latitude to search through anything they found. Between an e-mail account, a mobile phone, and a laptop computer, police can gain an almost complete window into someone’s life. Do we want them to have this much power simply to crack down on misdemeanors?
The state doesn’t always exercise this tremendous power under rigorous oversight, either. Though the apparatus of oversight was in place, the judges who signed off on the warrants never pushed back on them, even though the warrants misstated the day on which Ardis learned about @peoriamayor and even though one of them said that the offense in question was a “violation of child pornography laws” rather than the actual claim of “false personation.”
* Meanwhile, from the the ACLU of Illinois…
The ACLU of Illinois now represents Mr. Daniel, the creator of the Twitter parody. Mr. Daniel, like other parodists, has a First Amendment right to post these tweets. He was engaging in a time-honored tradition of poking fun at public officials — even when the public official doesn’t like it. Because Mr. Daniel’s activities were protected, they should never have led to a warrant and search of his home. The police activity in this case was unnecessary and contrary to both the First and Fourth Amendment protections to which he was entitled.
In the coming weeks, the ACLU of Illinois anticipates bringing legal action in support of Mr. Daniel against those officials who are responsible for the violations of his rights. We hope this action will send a strong signal to all that wrongful use of the police power to suppress protected speech, even when it is critical or makes fun of public officials is an abuse of power and is not acceptable.