Online Chat about the Silk Road Judge Elicits Dept. of Justice Subpeona

The ending of the Silk Road trial, last month has many in the Bitcoin community in a state of outrage over the decision and the extent of the sentence handed down against creator Ross Ulbricht. The U.S. Federal Judge who presided over the case in New York was Katherine Forrest, who handed down a life sentence, and a “forfeiture” of over $183 million dollars by Ulbricht. Members of the frustrated Bitcoin community have taken to online forums to commiserate, vent and chat about the outcome.

What can you say, freely, online and about whom?

The rancor and conjecture have reached a fever pitch at the libertarian social website Reason.com. Some posters have some particularly harsh words for Forrest. Here are some the key examples, provided by Popehat.com:

silk roadsilk road

Also read: Drug Sales Online Continue to Rise After Silk Road Shutdown

Online commentary like this has drawn the ire of the Department of Justice (DOJ), who has found it to be illegal to speak about a U.S. Federal Judge in this fashion. The DOJ cites a section of criminal code that prohibits the “mailing threatening communications” against judges and the DOJ has issued a subpoena literally commanding them to turn over as much personal information as possible on the posters. IP addresses, email accounts, phone numbers, billing addresses and more. According to the DOJ, the offense is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

“We command you that all and singular business and excuses being laid aside, you appear and attend before the grand jury of the people of the United States,” states the subpoena. “The Government hereby requests that you voluntarily refrain from disclosing the existence of the subpoena to any third party.”

Are these posters wrong for what they posted? Of course. Is this another case of the U.S. government’s overreach and a growing tyranny of The State? Hard to miss that. Does compliance by Reason.com under the pressure from a U.S. government agency set an awful precedent that compromises freedom of speech worldwide? Probably. Will Reason.com have a choice to ignore this “command”, and stand up to this international bullying, at the expense of freedom of speech? Are both sides right in this situation, to speak freely and defend the law? Or are both wrong, to make what can be seen as a verbal threat online, and the government forcing a website to provide user’s personal information? We’ll find out soon enough.

What should be done about such posters? Is posting hateful speech about a judge worthy of forfeiture of all personal information to any government by a website? Share above and comment below.

Updated: June 10, 2015 at 8:41 am CET.

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