TSA Withdraws Subpoenas to Journalists


Last week I noted that the Transportation Security Administration had demanded that two travel writers reveal the source of the TSA directive they posted after the foiled Christmas Day bombing of a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. One of them, Chris Elliott, was planning to challenge the TSA's administrative subpoena in federal court. It looks like that won't be necessary, since the TSA has withdrawn both subpoenas, saying its investigation of who leaked the document is "nearing a successful conclusion" without them. Although the circumstances in which a a journalist can be compelled to reveal a source vary from state to state and from one federal circuit to another, it seems clear under the relevant precedents that the government should not resort to this option when there is another way in which it can readily obtain the information it seeks. The TSA's quick capitulation therefore suggests the subpoenas were illegal to begin with. A.P. reports that Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, "said she could not remember the last time an administrative subpoena had been served on a reporter in the last decade."

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  1. It appears the found the info they were looking for on the guy’s laptop.

    What’s the odds that complying with an illegal subpena is fair game under the guise of compliance is voluntary being that you have a right to not comply with an illegal demand?

  2. . . . TSA directive they posted after the foiled failed Christmas Day bombing . . .


  3. Ooo, a second chance to use my patented Cabin Boy joke!

  4. The TSA’s quick capitulation therefore suggests the subpoenas were illegal to begin with.

    It’s completely unreasonable to expect agents of the government to know and obey the law. That’s a lotta laws to keep track of!

  5. Weren’t the Balco journalists subpoenaed to discover who gave Barry Bonds steroids? Or is that not the same as an administrative subpoena?

    1. That was a court-issued subpoena.

  6. So, does this mean Chris Elliott is now free to report on who in TSA issues illegal subpoenas?

  7. Andrew S. said:
    “That was a court-issued subpoena.”

    The TSA bloggers’ subpoena was issued by a staff attorney at TSA — but was completely non-Constitutional.

    Subpoena is a judicial-power… and Article III firmly states that all federal judicial power resides in the U.S. Supreme Court (and lower Federal Courts)… nowhere else !

    Of course, TSA, Presidents, and Congress all formally ‘claim’ to have subpoena power… because the authority to drag anybody (and their personal records & effects) in submission before you — is an extremely powerful weapon.

    The TSA cannot even legally enforce
    its own phony subpoenas — which is why they were quickly withdrawn when challenged by the blogger’s lawyers.

  8. Owen, all attorneys are officers of the court, and attorneys routinely issue subpoenas over their own signatures in that capacity.

    Of course, those subpoenas have to be relevant to a lawsuit.

    I agree that “administrative” subpoenas are much more dubious Constitutionally.

  9. Hey at least they didn’t go all Israeli police on his laptop.

    shamelessly ripped from Munger’s Cheesy site

  10. | “…all attorneys are officers of the court, and attorneys routinely issue subpoenas over their own signatures in that capacity..” |


    ONLY Federal courts can issue legal subpoenas, under the U.S. Constitution !

    The TSA and its hired lawyers cannot issue subpoenas on their own authority.

    Of course, as an administrative convenience, courts often authorize lawyers to sign subpoenas — but the basic subpoena authority still resides fully with the court… not the lawyer.

    There are endless & widespread efforts by government politicians/bureaucrats to claim “subpoena power” over the public… and many are successful due to intimidation, force, and indifference to the rule of law.

  11. The directive is public information, whether the TSA and feds say so or not.

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