After learning that a payment processor which was used to collect money for the legal defense of the recently freed journalist Barrett Brown had been subpoenaed for “any and all records”, we began a process to ascertain what had happened, whether it was legal, and what remedies were available to us.
The next step in that process occurred yesterday when we filed suit against the government, specifically the United States Assistant Attorney and FBI Special Agent involved with the subpoena which sought the identities of our donors and the amount of each donation. Those are details which we have always sought to keep strictly confidential. Yet, in this case, the government requested this information from the payment processor without an appropriate search warrant or notice to the affected donors.
The subpoena was irrelevant to the actual charges against Barrett Brown. It was part of an egregious surveillance program and fishing expedition directed at Brown’s supporters and collaborators, including Project PM contributors—recall that the feds also sought information about a public wiki created by Brown which leveraged leaks and openly available information in order to facilitate crowd-sourced investigation of the burgeoning private intelligence contracting industry.
Donations made in support of litigation and other causes are acts of political expression and free association, which are rights guaranteed to citizens under the United States Constitution. So, we have filed this complaint under the First Amendment, the Stored Communications Act, and the California Constitutional Right to Privacy.
There is no reason that like-minded, law-abiding citizens should have been mixed up in the FBI’s investigation of the criminal conduct which Brown eventually pleaded guilty to. In particular, the lawsuit is a class action demand for a jury trial on behalf of all anonymous donors to Brown’s legal defense fund.
Free Barrett Brown’s former director, Kevin Gallagher, commented: “Learning that these records were sought and obtained was highly unsettling, and I felt that I had to do something about it. If we don’t send a message to the government that it’s not okay to target private legal defense efforts, then they will continue to get away with these sort of things.”
Here is a copy of the filing. Stay tuned for further developments.
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