Secret subpoenas

A.G. Anonymous


In May, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett subpoenaed the online message service Twitter for the "name, address, contact information, creation date, creation Internet Protocol address and any and all log in Internet Protocol addresses" of two anonymous users, @bfbarbie and @CasaBlancaPA. Both writers had used their accounts to post criticism of Corbett, including messages accusing him of mixing "campaign work with taxpayer business" and calling attention to attempts by security guards to eject questioners at Corbett events.

A June report in the Philadephia Bulletin indicated that Corbett may have been interested in the accounts because he wanted to use them as evidence in a trial. But whatever he believed, he didn't want anyone to know about it. According to the Bulletin, Corbett's quest to out the anonymous critics was itself cloaked in anonymity. A cover letter included with the subpoena asked Twitter not to reveal the order's existence. It added that if the company planned to do so, it should first contact the attorney general's office so he could seek a legal ruling barring Twitter from revealing the subpoena's existence.