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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The question is not good taste, or libel--the question is abuse of government authority

I had never read Peaceful Rioters of Wilmington Facebook page until jason at Delawareliberal posted about the DE AG's office slapping Facebook with a subpoena to force revelation of the ownership of the page.

Then I visited the page (and "liked" it) so that I could see what all the fuss was about.

Here are my conclusions:

1.  PRW is one of those phenomena that grows when there is attention, wilts when there is not.  Nancy herself pointed out that lots of people were deserting the page last week, and the fact that I'd never even seen a reference to PRW prior to today is a pretty good reference that, as cassandra m opined, their reach is less than that of Channel 28--and that's pathetic.  Had the Powers That Be in Delaware simply left well enough alone, the odds are that the page would simply have settled down to the side-conversation of a few very disgruntled people and their vicarious observers.

2.  For the Attorney General's office to get involved, and for the subpoena to suggest that this is part and parcel of a criminal investigation is disturbing in all sorts of ways.  What's next?  A subpoena for the authors and commenters at Delawareliberal who have speculated outrageously on Beau Biden's health problems or maligned virtually every legislator in the General Assembly?  That can't be good, right?  And the ACLU agrees that this is substantial overreach.

3.  Facebook actually showed some courage here--the subpoena "commanded" FB not to tell the owners of PRW about its existence, but the company did so anyway, probably well cognizant of the fact that Beau Biden can't do squat about their noncompliance.  While, inevitably, FB will knuckle under (read their terms of service sometime), it is at least refreshing to see the company give the AG's office at least a pro-forma stick in the eye before rolling over.

4.  Despite all the back-and-forth over whether Beau Biden actually knew that this subpoena went out (he certainly doesn't approve every one personally), he is the responsible party.  Put this on a trajectory with the AG's Office issuing "secret" policy opinions to both DNREC and DPH, and you begin to wonder exactly who the office is supposed to be protecting--people or politicians?

Free speech includes irresponsible speech.  If the issue is trash-talking that descended to libel, it is important to recall that libel and slander are civil not criminal issues.  The AG's Office has alleged a criminal issue in the issuance of this subpoena.  If that can't be sustained, then somebody needs to answer for an abuse of power.

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