Anonymous Twitterers Under Attack For Exercising Free Speech Rights

As Susie noted earlier, Techcrunch is reporting that Pennsylvania Attorney General (and Republican candidate for Governor) Tom Corbett, in a classic "

As Susie noted earlier, Techcrunch is reporting that Pennsylvania Attorney General (and Republican candidate for Governor) Tom Corbett, in a classic "we respect the Constitution until we don't" Republican move, has summoned Twitter officials to testify before a Grand Jury about two members' accounts.

It appears that two members have been openly critical of the Attorney General on Twitter and on an anonymous blog created to "expose the hypocrisy of Tom Corbett."

Here's the specific information Corbett wants (from the subpoena):

"Any and all subscriber information pertaining to the users of:

http://twitter.com/bfbarbie

http://twitter.com/CasablancaPA

This should include, but not limited to: name, address, contact information, creation date, creation Internet Protocol address and any and all log in Internet Protocol addresses."

The tweets which appear to be in question are ones like this:

Screen shot 2010-05-19 at 11_03682.53.23 AM.png

Corbett is actively pursuing the prosecution of state employees alleged to have participated in a bonus program which used taxpayer dollars for campaigns. His results have been mixed: Two acquittals and three partial convictions.

Just a quick read through this article gives me the chills, especially when I came to the part where Corbett is under federal investigation for the very same charges.

Despite continued claims by the attorney general’s office that accusations, court motions and lawsuits against Corbett are baseless or “bogus,” it remains to be seen whether he can demonstrate to voters that he didn’t abuse his prosecutorial power in the semblance of cleaning up public corruption.

Additionally, a federal lawsuit filed against Corbett in 2008 alleges that thousands, perhaps millions, of public dollars were “illegally paid out to vendors.”

On March 11, Corbett was deposed in his office for six hours for a lawsuit filed against him and others in the office of the attorney general and Department of Revenue. The whistleblower case alleges that Thomas D. Kimmett, a former attorney with the AG’s office, and his assistant, Sherry E. Bellaman, were terminated because of Kimmett’s call for an independent investigation into the collection practices within the Attorney General’s Financial Enforcement Section.

The case alleges “pervasive wrongdoing” in the collection of accounts receivable amounting to upwards of $300 million to $500 million. It gives details of alleged fraudulent payouts to no-bid vendors and claims there was a “cover-up by Mr. Corbett and the other defendants.”

Back to Twitter for a minute. One of the most attractive features of the service is the rapid-fire message-in-140 one-to-many ability. It's easy, it's accessible via text message, the internet and just about any way one wants to access it, and so it enables free speech. True free speech. The kind that doesn't require millions of dollars and TV studio facilities to broadcast. It certainly facilitates the kind of free speech that Republicans extolled in their arguments for Citizens United.

What scares them most is their inability to control it like they do the airwaves and other venues. In my opinion, Corbett's efforts to expose anonymous Twitter identities is nothing more than a misguided slap at free speech and democracy.

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