Secret Service investigates student Webmasters after anonymous post

PITTSBURGH — Big Brother might be watching.

After receiving a subpoena from the Secret Service to turn over information on an anonymous contributor to their site, hosts of an independent Web publication say they may still be the subjects of a Secret Service investigation.

The four Webmasters of an Independent Media Center Web site and the site’s server, Calyx Internet Access, were entangled in the investigation after an anonymous poster listed the names, phone numbers and hotel addresses of delegates attending the Republican National Convention in New York City.

The information was posted on and was accompanied by directions for readers to use the information “in whatever way they see fit.”

The Secret Service began investigating the post, accusing the site’s hosts of voter intimidation.

On Aug. 20, two days after the post listed the delegates’ information, Carnegie Mellon University student Matt Toups was notified by Calyx that the Web hosting service had been subpoenaed to testify about the posting. Toups is one of four volunteer administrators for the site.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a Secret Service agent contacted Calyx’s president, Nicholas Merrill, asking for the names of the site’s administrators and for site logs.

The subpoena ordered Merrill to appear before a grand jury Aug. 31 or to release all information pertinent to the post. The American Civil Liberties Union responded to the subpoena on Merrill’s behalf by releasing the names of the four administrators. Each gave permission to have his name released, on the condition that the ACLU would agree to represent them if the investigation persisted.

“We couldn’t come up with any possible reason why [the Secret Service] would want this information except to harass and intimidate the people who posted this information, who have every right under the First Amendment to do so,” ACLU attorney Ann Beeson said.

In a statement released by the ACLU, Toups said he supported the contributor’s right to post anonymously, adding that all the information contained in the post was public information.

“My technical work with Indymedia has made me the target of a baseless Secret Service investigation,” Toups said. “Unfortunately, the United States is becoming an increasingly repressive and chilling environment for free speech, thanks to government harassment efforts like the recent attempts to question Indymedia.”

Beeson said her clients have had no contact with Secret Service members regarding the investigation. They also do not know the status of the investigation.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” she said. Beeson said she hoped making the case public would shame the Secret Service into ending the investigation but admits neither she nor her clients may ever know the end result.

“They could be continuing to investigate behind the students’ backs, and we would have no way of knowing,” she said.

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