Criminal

U.S. Blogger Facing Criminal Libel Charges in Singapore

Singapore officials Monday amended the charge against blogger Gopalan Nair, a U.S. citizen who blogs from Fremont, California, accusing him of insulting a public official for his criticism of Singaporean Judge Belinda Ang that he published in his blog, Singapore Dissident, last month. The original charge had asserted that Nair insulted Ang in an email.

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Lori Drew Indicted For Misuse of MySpace in Megan Meier Suicide Case

Lori Drew was indicted on Thursday for her alleged role in a hoax on MySpace directed at Megan Meier, a 13-year-old neighbor of Drew's who committed suicide in October 2006 after a "boy" she met on MySpace abruptly turned on her and ended their relationship. The boy was allegedly Lori Drew, who pretended to be 16-year-old "Josh Evans" to gain the trust of Megan, who had been fighting with Drew's daughter.

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Receiving Documents and Information from Government Sources

If you receive documents or other information relating to national security from a government employee (or other person who is authorized to access government documents and information), you could be criminally prosecuted for conspiring with that government employee to violate the federal Espionage Act, located at 18 U.S.C. § 793, or for aiding and abetting that employee's violation of the Act.

City of West Bend v. Buss

Date: 

11/29/2007

Threat Type: 

Criminal Investigation

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

James Buss

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Legal Counsel: 

Dennis Coffey

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Withdrawn

Description: 

James Buss, a high school teacher in Wisconsin, anonymously posted a comment on the Boots and Sabers blog under the name "Observer." In the comment, Buss stated that high teacher salaries made him sick and appeared to praise the Columbine High School shooters, stating, "They knew how to deal with the overpaid teacher union thugs. One shot at a time!" Because Buss is a former president of the teacher's union, in hindsight there is good reason to believe that the comment was tongue-in-cheek and intended to ridicule the conservative point of view on teacher salaries.

School officials viewed the anonymous comment as a threat and notified the police. The police traced the comment back to Buss and arrested him. He spent an hour in prison and was released on $350 bail. The school district also suspended him from his teaching job. The local district attorney considered charging Buss with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of computerized communications systems under Wisconsin law. The district attorney ultimately determined, however, that Buss's comment was protected speech under the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions because it did did not incite imminent lawless action.

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Boothe v. Brent Hanson

Date: 

05/09/2005

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Brent Hanson

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

District Court of Collin County, Texas

Case Number: 

219-86-05

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$1,500.00

Legal Counsel: 

M. Jason Ankele (defamation proceedings); pro se (contempt proceedings)

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Injunction Issued
Settled (total)

Description: 

Brent Hanson, who operated a website focused on laser eye surgery called LasikFraud.com, posted allegedly defamatory material about Dr. Boothe, a refractive surgeon, essentially calling Dr. Boothe a quack and accusing him of botching surgeries. After Dr. Boothe sued Hanson, the parties settled the suit on January 31, 2005, with Hanson agreeing to a permanent injunction that required him to remove the offending allegations from his website and to delete all his digital content relating to Dr. Boothe, and restraining him from repeating the allegations elsewhere.

After the suit was over, Hanson apparently violated the injunction against him by posting more information about Dr. Boothe on different websites ("LasikQuack.com" and "LasikQuack.org"). Counsel for Boothe hired a computer forensics expert, who testified that Hanson controlled these websites, and attempted to conceal this fact by using eGold cards and offshore web hosting. The Texas court found that Hanson had breached the terms of the permanent injunction and was guilty of contempt. Hanson was fined $1,500 and sentenced to serve 540 days of jail time.

The jail term was suspended for 18 months on the condition that Hanson: comply with the permanent injunction; allow Boothe's representatives to enter his home and inspect his computers to check up on his compliance; refrain from erasing material from his computers (other than in the ordinary course of business); and withdraw any complaints against Boothe with government agencies (unless a court orders that he has a reasonable chance of success).

The court also ordered that all Internet service providers, domain name registrars,
web site administrations, search engines, UseNet Groups, computer message boards, webhosting companies, e-mail service providers, electronic currency companies, and other providers of electronic communications services or remote computing services and expressly including Google, Inc., DSLReports.com, BroadbandReports.com, and Yahoo!, and their respective corporate affiliates, to remove all links to LasikQuack.com, LasikQuack.net, and LasikQuack.org, as well as all text associated with those links, including any cached copies.

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Subject Area: 

Church of Scientology v. Gawker

Date: 

01/15/2008

Threat Type: 

Correspondence

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Gawker Media

Type of Party: 

Large Organization

Type of Party: 

Organization

Legal Counsel: 

Gaby Darbyshire (Gawker Media)

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

A nine-minute video featuring Tom Cruise excitedly proclaiming the virtues of Scientology was leaked onto the Internet. Gawker, YouTube, and other sites posted the video. The Church of Scientology's lawyers sent out cease-and-desist letters and emails to a range of re-publishers, most of whom removed the video. Gawker Media refused to comply.

On January 15, 2008, the Church of Scientology (through counsel) sent an email to Gawker Media alleging that posting the video on Gawker and Defamer (another Gawker Media site) violated its copyright and demanding its removal. The Church also asserted that "several criminal laws are implicated since this work was stolen," citing theft (California Penal Code 484 et seq); receiving stolen property (California Penal Code 496); and interstate transporting or transmission of stolen goods (18 U.S.C. 2314), but did not directly accuse Gawker of committing any of these criminal offenses.

Gawker responded to the Church via email, rebuffing the criminal claims and asserting fair use:

We are using this video in the context of news reporting and critical commentary, which are uses that may not be authorized by your client, but which serve the public interest. For this, and other reasons, we believe our use is fair. We further do not accept that we have broken any criminal laws in publishing it, and in any event, several of the statutes you cite are inapplicable in this case.

The video is still posted on Gawker, and the Church is believed to be considering legal action.

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CMLP Notes: 

Status checked on 6/3/2008 (AAB)

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Subject Area: 

Federal Grand Jury v. MySpace

Date: 

01/08/2008

Threat Type: 

Subpoena

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

MySpace

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Intermediary

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the Southern District of California

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Subpoena Enforced

Description: 

The Los Angeles Times reported that a federal grand jury in Los Angeles has begun issuing subpoenas in the Megan Meier case, the Missouri teenager who committed suicide after a "boy" she met on MySpace abruptly turned on her and ended their relationship. According to the Los Angeles Times, the boy was allegedly Lori Drew, a neighbor who had pretended to be 16-year-old "Josh Evans" to gain Megan's trust.

According to anonymous sources who spoke to the LATimes:

Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, however, are exploring the possibility of charging Drew with defrauding the MySpace social networking website by allegedly creating the false account, according to the sources, who insisted on anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

The sources said prosecutors are looking at federal wire fraud and cyber fraud statutes as they consider the case. Prosecutors believe they have jurisdiction because MySpace is headquartered in Beverly Hills, the sources said.

Update:

05/15/2008- The grand jury indicted Lori Drew.See the related threat entry, United States v. Drew, for more information.

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Grand Jury Issues Subpoena to MySpace in Megan Meier Suicide Case

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that a federal grand jury in Los Angeles has begun issuing subpoenas in the Megan Meier case, the Missouri teenager who committed suicide after a "boy" she met on MySpace abruptly turned on her and ended their relationship.

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Kansas Court Issues Search Warrant to Lawrence Journal-World Seeking Identity of Anonymous User

Last month, an investigator at Kansas University delivered a search warrant to the Lawrence Journal-World, a highly regarded newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas, demanding access to their computer servers in order to get information about the identity of a user who had posted comments on the paper's website, LJWorld.com.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Kansas University v. Lawrence Journal-World

Date: 

12/10/2007

Threat Type: 

Criminal Investigation

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Lawrence Journal-World; LJWorld.com

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Media Company

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Douglas County District Court

Legal Counsel: 

Bernard Rhodes

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Withdrawn

Description: 

On December 10, 2007, an investigator with the Kansas University Office of Public Safety delivered a search warrant to the Lawrence Journal-World, a highly regarded newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas, demanding access to the newspaper’s computer servers. The search warrant, issued by Douglas County District Judge Stephen Six, sought information about the identity of an individual who had posted anonymous comments on the newspaper's website, LJWorld.com.

Investigators were seeking the identity of a user who had posted comments on the paper's website under the screen name "a2thek." The pseudonymous user had commented on an article about a Kansas University student who was found dead in a KU dorm room, indicating that the death was heroin-related.

According to the Lawrence World-Journal, the investigator left before executing the warrant:

When presented with the search warrant, the newspaper was given the opportunity to call its attorney [Bernard Rhodes], who contacted the district attorney’s office and the court to object to the search warrant. During that time period, the KU investigator left the Journal-World offices without executing the search warrant and did not return.

Rhodes stated that he believed the search warrant was issued contrary to the federal Privacy Protection Act, which restricts the ability of law enforcement to conduct searches of news-gathering organizations.

On January 6, 2008, after the paper made the search warrant public, a2thek posted a follow-up comment apologizing for providing inaccurate information in his earlier comment:

This infomation [sic] is not 100% correct and I would like to take some time to apologize for any mis-information. The guy that works with me I overheard in the bathrool [sic] making this speculation of what actually happened so I dont [sic] know if it's actual fact or hearsay. I do once again dont [sic] want to draw any lines or conclusions being I really dont know anything about all of it and I think the guy at work was just an aquitance [sic] and went to school with the guy and that's what he heard. I guess when a autopsy is performed that will get you the answers that your looking for. Sorry for all the misleading info once again.

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Subject Area: 

British Blogger Threatened with Arrest for Inciting Racial Hatred

Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit.com reports that a British blogger was recently threatened with arrest for inciting racial hatred.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Massachusetts v. Lowney

Date: 

12/01/2007

Threat Type: 

Criminal Charge

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Peter Lowney

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Brighton District Court, Massachusetts

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$500.00

Publication Medium: 

Website

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Verdict (plaintiff)

Description: 

Peter Lowney, a political activist from Newton, Massachusetts, was convicted in December 2007 of violating the Massachusetts wiretapping statute (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99) and sentenced to six months probation and fined $500. The criminal case arose out of Lowney's concealed videotaping of a Boston University police sergeant during a political protest in 2006. Apparently Lowney was shooting footage of the protest when police ordered him to stop and then arrested him for continuing to operate the camera while hiding it in his coat. According to a press release from the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, the footage appears to have been posted on a "video-sharing website." As part of the sentencing, the court ordered Lowney to remove the footage from the Internet.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

to-do: monitor to see if there is an appeal; if not, switch to "concluded"

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Massachusetts Wiretapping Law Strikes Again

Boston Now reports that Peter Lowney, a political activist from Newton, Massachusetts, was convicted last week of violating the Massachusetts wiretapping statute (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99) and sentenced to six months probation and fined $500. The criminal case arose out of Lowney's concealed videotaping of a Boston University police sergeant during a political protest in 2006.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Egypt v. Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suliman

Date: 

11/06/2006

Threat Type: 

Criminal Charge

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

Public Prosecutor, Egypt

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suliman, a.k.a. Kareem Amer

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

International

Court Name: 

Maharram Beik Misdemeanor Court (Alexandria, Egypt); Court of Appeal (Alexandria)

Case Number: 

Case No. 6677 of 2006

Legal Counsel: 

Gamal Abdul Aziz Eid, Rawda Ahmed Said, Ahmed Seif al-Islam

Publication Medium: 

Blog
Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Verdict (plaintiff)

Description: 

Egyptian law student Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suliman ("Kareem"), using the psuedonym Kareem Amer, posted a series of articles critizing the Islamic faith, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Al-Azhar University to his blog and websites, Modern Discussion and Copts United. He was first arrested for his posts in October 2005, at which time he was detained for 12 days and forced to surrender his books and some personal articles and writings. In March 2006, Kareem was expelled from Al-Azahar University because of his posts. (For more information on the expulsion, see the CMLP database entry, Al-Azhar University v. Abdul Kareem Nabeel.)

Al-Azhar informed the Public Prosecutor's Office in Alexandria of Kareem's writings. On November 06, 2006, Kareem was arrested. When he refused to recant, he was held in solitary confinement until he could face trial. He was charged with three basic crimes: contempt for religion (both generally and Islam in particular), defaming President Mubarak, and disrupting public order.

On Feb. 22, 2007 in Maharram Beik Court, after what reports have described as only five minutes of consideration, Kareem was was sentenced to four years in prison for his speech -- three years for contempt of religion and one year for defaming Mubarak. The charges relating to alleged disruptions of public order were dropped.

On March 12, 2007, the Court of Appeals in Alexandria upheld Kareem's conviction and four-year sentence. The court also approved a civil claim brought by a group of Egyptian lawyers seeking to fine Kareem for "insulting Islam."

Status:

Several sources, including freekareem.org, have reported that Kareem's lawyers intend to appeal the case to the Court of Cassation, Egypt's highest appeals court.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Details are sketchy due to lack of available court documents. Continue to monitor on (theoretical) appeal. {MCS 09/14/07}

Status checked on 6/3/2008, no new information (AAB)

Status checked on 2/19/2009 -VAF  (no new information re: a possible appeal)

 

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Subject Area: 

Massachusetts State Police v. Jean

Date: 

02/14/2006

Threat Type: 

Correspondence

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Mary T. Jean

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Central Division; United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Case Number: 

4:06CV40031 (District); No. 06-1775 (Appeals)

Legal Counsel: 

John Reinstein, Daniel Shea

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Description: 

Mary Jean is the operator of Conte2006.com, which describes itself as being "designed for the sole purpose of stopping the re-election of [Worchester, MA] District Attorney John J. Conte." Jean posted a video to the site that showed state police engaging in a warrantless and possibly unconstitutional search of Paul Pechonis' home. The police depicted in the video allegedly were from a unit that reported to Conte and acted under his supervision. The video was recorded by Pechonis' child-security system (or "nanny cam"), and Pechonis himself gave the video to Jean.

On Feb. 14, 2006, the Massuchetts state police sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Jean remove the video within 24 hours or face criminal action. The letter cited a Massachusetts law regarding unauthorized recording and wiretapping as the basis for the takedown request (the police later clarified by stating that only the audio portion of the recording was at issue). Rather than removing the video, Jean filed a lawsuit in federal court requesting an injunction to prevent the Massachusetts police from pursuing legal action. The complaint named the state police, Massachusetts State Police superintendent Thomas G. Robbins, and Massachusetts attorney general Thomas Reilly as defendants.

Jean's complaint sought both an immediate temporary restraining order and a permant injunction that would prevent the police from taking action against her related to the video. The court granted the restraining order on the day the complaint was filed.

The district court ultimately granted the injunction as well. The court assumed for the sake of argument that Jean had reason to know that the recording might have been illegal when she posted it. Finding a public interest in Jean's publication of the information contained in the video, the court decided that the police's duty to restrain illegal recording could not counterbalance Jean's free speech rights. Key to this decision was the fact that Jean did not engage in recording herself, and thus punishing her would not serve the same deterrence goals as would punishing the recorder.

On appeal, the First Circuit upheld the injunction, echoing the lower court's comments regarding the balancing of free speech versus the police's law-enforcing goals.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

The Conte2006.com site is a good place to check for updates, in case the suit is appealed further. {MCS}

 

sam reviewing

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Missouri Town Makes Online Harassment a Crime After Megan Meier's Suicide

City officials in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri unanimously passed a measure on November 21 making online harassment a crime, punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. The city's six-member Board of Aldermen passed the ordinance in response to 13-year-old Megan Meier's suicide.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Kavakich v. Chavla (Subpoena)

Date: 

04/20/2004

Threat Type: 

Subpoena

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Terri Chavla; Munir Chavla; John Does (1-3)

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Government

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

Western District of Pennsylvania

Case Number: 

2:04CV00594

Legal Counsel: 

Ronald Barber, Catherine Mancing, Witold Walczak

Publication Medium: 

Forum

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Description: 

Terri and Munir Chavla, operators of a community forum called LocalScoop.net, along with three anonymous users of the site sued Mark Kavakich, the local chief of police, after Kavakich sent them a subpoena seeking the identities of users of the site. According to the lawsuit, Kavakich also posted messages on the site threatening to uncover the identities of anonymous users who had criticized him and sent an email to the site's operators threatening civil and criminal action.

On April 20, 2004, the court issued an order granting plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order, enjoining defendant Kavakich from a) making any threats, either generally or specifically, to prosecute or identify people who post messages on the Internet, specifically, at www.localscoop.net; b) enforcing subpoenas, dated 4/12 and 4/14/04, against www.localscoop.net webmaster Russell Stevens; and c) from threatening to use or making use of any compulsory process to prosecute, identify or confront people who post messages on the Internet, specifically at www.localscoop.net, except by leave of court based upon a showing of probable cause.

The case then proceeded through discovery and court ordered mediation. On January 24, 2006, the court approved the parties' consent decree settling the case. The settlement involved the payment of $42,000 to the plaintiffs and the continuation of the limitations outlined in the preliminary injunction.

Plaintiffs received legal asssistance from Witold Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Kavakich v. Chavla

Date: 

04/20/2004

Threat Type: 

Correspondence

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

Mark Kavakich, Chief of Police of North Franklin Township

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Terri Chavla; Munir Chavla; John Does (1-3)

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Government

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

Western District of Pennsylvania

Case Number: 

2:04CV00594

Legal Counsel: 

Ronald Barber, Catherine Mancing, Witold Walczak

Publication Medium: 

Forum

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Description: 

Terri and Munir Chavla, operators of a community forum called LocalScoop.net, along with three anonymous users of the site sued Mark Kavakich, the local chief of police. According to the lawsuit, Kavakich posted messages on the site threatening to uncover the identities of anonymous users who had criticized him and sent an email to the site's operators threatening civil and criminal action. Plaintiffs also allege in their complaint that Kavakich sent them a subpoena seeking the identities of users of the site.

On April 20, 2004, the court issued an order granting plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order, enjoining defendant Kavakich from a) making any threats, either generally or specifically, to prosecute or identify people who post messages on the Internet, specifically, at www.localscoop.net; b) enforcing subpoenas, dated 4/12 and 4/14/04, against www.localscoop.net webmaster Russell Stevens; and c) from threatening to use or making use of any compulsory process to prosecute, identify or confront people who post messages on the Internet, specifically at www.localscoop.net, except by leave of court based upon a showing of probable cause.

The case then proceeded through discovery and court ordered mediation. On January 24, 2006, the court approved the parties' consent decree settling the case. The settlement involved the payment of $42,000 to the plaintiffs and the continuation of the limitations outlined in the preliminary injunction.

Plaintiffs received legal asssistance from Witold Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Update on Phoenix New Times Case

As mentioned in our previous post on the Phoenix New Times arrests, two Phoenix-area news organizations filed a motion on October 19 requesting the Arizona Superior Court to publicly release documents related to the New Times grand jury investigation, presumably including the subpoena that caused all the ruckus.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Citizen Media Law Podcast #1: Federal Shield Bill; Co-Blogging and Legal Threats; Phoenix New Times Arrests

Welcome to the first episode of the Citizen Media Law Podcast, providing practical knowledge and tools for citizen journalists. This week, David Ardia responds to the federal shield bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, Colin Rhinesmith talks about legal threats to co-bloggers, and Sam Bayard reflects on the Phoenix New Times arrests.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

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