Pennsylvania Attorney General Sends Broad, Unconstitutional Gag Order To Gab's New DNS Provider

from the security-through-intimidation dept

Because nothing motivates stupid legislative activity better than a tragedy, various officials are moving forward with dubious activities in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. In the state of New York, a couple of politicians have just announced a Constitutional violation two-fer, offering to separate residents from their Second Amendment rights by using their First Amendment rights against them.

Eric Adams, the president of Brooklyn Borough, and state Senator Kevin Palmer are currently writing the proposed legislation, which would give law enforcement authorities the power to check up to three years of an individual’s social media accounts and internet search history before they are allowed to buy a gun, WCBS Newsradio 880 reported. One of the main aims is to identify any hate speech shared by the users, as the politicians noted that such offensive comments are generally only discovered after mass shootings occur.

This proposal was offered up with complete sincerity despite:

a.) Hate speech being protected under the First Amendment, and

b.) the bill not targeting Gab -- the site where the shooter's anti-Semitic speech/threats were posted.

Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania's attorney general, has decided to do some "doing something" himself. In a statement to Haaretz one day after the shooting, the state AG promised to get to the bottom… of something.

“My office is reviewing this platform, which was used by the killer to spread his hateful messages,” Shapiro told Haaretz in an interview. “We have strong first amendment protections in this country, and that’s very important for me, but when that speech includes incitement to violence, that crosses a line. We cannot tolerate that.”

"Reviewing the platform…" Those are imprecise words promising imprecise actions. And the imprecise actions have arrived. Gab was the first to report on Shapiro's "review" of its platform. Via Twitter, Gab announced the receipt of a broad, vague subpoena from Shapiro's office. The tweets have since been deleted, but not before being archived. Here's a screenshot of the first two tweets Gab sent to AG Shapiro. (via Timothy Lee at Ars Technica)

The subpoena wasn't sent to Gab, but rather Epik, the domain provider Gab picked up after being dropped by GoDaddy in the days after the shooting. The whole subpoena -- rescued from deleted tweets -- can be found at Unicorn Riot. The subpoena demands Epik turn over pretty much any document the domain provider might have on Gab, including names and addresses of "any and all persons or entities employed by, representing, or otherwise acting on behalf of Gab."

Shapiro's fishing expedition -- which decided to bypass Gab (most likely in hopes of finding its DNS provider more cooperative) -- comes complete with a very half-assed gag order request.

Any disclosure to any person or entity, other than the person or entity identified as the Respondent, that a subpoena has been issued in this matter may jeopardize an ongoing civil investigation. Therefore, you are hereby requested to refrain from notifying any person or entity, other than said Respondent, that the subpoena has been issued.

The tweets from Gab to AG Shapiro, which included screenshots of the subpoena, likely made it clear Epik didn't think much of the AG's "shut up, please" request. Now, the overbroad demand is all over the internet, showing AG Shapiro would rather score political points post-tragedy than respect enshrined rights or statutory immunity.

First, Epik should be shielded from any civil enforcement actions against Gab under Section 230. It doesn't appear the AG is seeking to take action against Epik, but nothing about these early developments that rules this course of action out. Second, the nominal target of Shapiro's investigation contains a whole lot of unpleasant, but Constitutional speech. Third, it's unclear what Shapiro is trying to accomplish. It appears Shapiro just wants to gather a bunch of information and then decide what sort of investigation he'd like to pursue. That's not how investigations (and their attendant paperwork) are supposed to work.

It seems more like a Sheriff Dart-esque campaign of intimidation than a legitimate use of the AG's office, as Eric Goldman points out in the Ars Technica article. I guess we'll know more if Gab is forced to change registrars again. If Shapiro's office arrives shortly thereafter with subpoena in hand, the "investigation" is nothing more than a quick and dirty way to push providers away from doing business with Gab.

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Filed Under: dns, domain registrars, free speech, gag order, josh shapiro, pennsylvania
Companies: epik, gab

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  1. identicon
    Agammamon, 13 Nov 2018 @ 2:16pm

    This proposal was offered up with complete sincerity despite:

    b.) the bill not targeting Gab -- the site where the shooter's anti-Semitic speech/threats were posted.

    What do you mean by this? If it targeted Gab, wouldn't it be a bill of attainder? And if its aimed at social media in general - wouldn't Gab fall under that umbrella?

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