Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


The FBI and Library Subpoenas

Orin Kerr discusses (deep breath!)

Michael Froomkin links (via Proof Through the Night) to this story from a Seattle TV station about a local library that has fought off an FBI subpoena for a list of names and addresses of who took out a book on Osama bin Laden.

Kerr does a good job of looking at both sides of the story, and says that we don’t know enough to say why the FBI issued, and then dropped, the subpoena. While we don’t know, we can make some guesses. The FBI has been raked over the coals for not following up on leads, like the people training to fly jets, and not interested in learning to land them. Oops! So now, they follow up on every lead, however silly. (As Kerr pointed out last week, the FBI has opened 11,617 fewer violent fugitive cases were opened in 2003 than in 2000— those agents have been moved to counter-terror.) The agent in this case was probably well aware that he was chasing smoke, and that it was perfectly likely that the person who wrote in the book did so without checking it out of the library. But a form of bureaucratic CYA has been engaged in–by issuing a subpoena and then not fighting for it, should this turn out to be connected with an actual future terrorist, the FBI is perfectly positioned to say that they tried and were blocked by the courts. If its nothing, then we of the bloggosphere have just wasted a lot of electrons on it.