Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« Rich getting richer, faster | Main | As the revolving door turns: Aschroft cashes in »

December 15, 2007

St. Paul police chief subpoenaed journo's records to ID source of public document

A Minnesota police chief is defending his decision to subpoena the phone records of a TV reporter in order to identify the official who gave the journalist a copy of a public record.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, both the chief and the source knew all along that the document in question, an arrest report, was a public record.

[St. Paul police chief John] Harrington told the station that the investigation involving the phone records was conducted out of concern for "data privacy," although he did not explain what privacy interests were involved in release of a public record. He wouldn't tell the station who authorized the subpoena or what time period the records covered.

[KMSP-TV reporter Tom Lyden] said in a report aired on his station that his concern is about what police are doing with all the records they now possess.

"In obtaining my phone records they basically opened up my reporter's notebook," Lyden said in the KMSP report. "They can match up every source that I have had. It is awful." [RCFP]

Police Chief John Harrington should be fired for abuse of power.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference St. Paul police chief subpoenaed journo's records to ID source of public document:


The Republican Convention is in St. Paul this summer.

This isn't a good sign.

I hope there aren't mass arrests of protesters like in NYC when the Republican Convention was there in 2004.

this is kinda like the cia erasing those torture videotapes because they might reveal the identities of the interrogators.

Wikipedia on obtaining phone records under federal law:
In order for law enforcement agencies to get a pen register approved for surveillance, they must get a court order from a judge. However, they need only certify to the judge that the information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation, at which point the judge 'shall' issue the order.

This is the lowest requirement for receiving a court order under any of ECPA's three titles... Some have argued that the government should be required to present "specific and articulable facts" showing that the information to be gathered is relevant and material to an ongoing investigation. This is the standard used by Title II of the ECPA with regard to the contents of stored communications.

It sounds like this police chief obtained a subpoena duces tecum (subpoena to produce records or evidence), since the story says that this police chief obtained records of this reporter's calls that had already taken place. If the chief wanted to get a pen register -- a record of the phone numbers the reporter might be making currently -- the chief would have had to get an order issued by a judge.

I don't know how they do it in Minnesota, but most states don't require a judge to issue a subpoena, as would be required for a search warrant, wiretap or pen register. Subpoenas are usually issued by a clerk of the court in the judge's name. In some jurisdictions a lawyer can issue a subpoena because they are an officer of the court. I'm guessing that in Minnesota, the police chief had the authority to issue a subpoena.

Still, the fact that this police chief got a subpoena to look at this reporter's phone records in the absence of a criminal act is reprehensible and yes, he should be fired. This type of interference with and intimidation of the press should not be tolerated.

What a joke! This guy should be out NOW! He infringed upon a core aspect of our nation's basic civil liberties. The identity of sources to the press is sacred and should not be trampled. There are instances, but few and far between in mind, where a source needs to be revealed. But clearly not in this case. Unreal...

it is REPREHENSIBLE. Here in Tampa Florida there are so many Verizon employees that are well-acquainted with so many LEOs that there hasn't been any problem whatsoever with them monitoring and tracking my tmobile calls. They don't have to get any kind of permission whatsoever if they don't intend to reveal their use of it publicly. In my case they are merely harassing me and letting me know I am listened to and that they can do so without fear of reprisal.
Yes, I can prove this. BUT, by the time it got anywhere I'm sure there'd be no evidence there was ever anyone on my phone.
You can hear it clear as day. Others I have spoken to do, as well. Besides the fact that they have let me know that they do so in their own slick ways.
This reporter is lucky that the police chief seems not to have this oily connection or he'd have never found out.

Thanks so much for all the info about subpoenas. That's the most I've read about them ANYWHERE.

Good story, Lindsay.

Wake up, people. Police are trampling our constitutional rights here in the USA. They've been doing it for decades, and they're going to keep doing it. I've been reading the National Lawyers Guild Report "The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and Dissent" by Heidi Boghosian. Download it from

Ever heard of "snatch squads?" Pg 52 ff. Infiltration of activist organizations, checkpoints, free-speech zones, mass false arrest and detention, pop-up lines, unconstitutional bail, intimidation by questioning, it's all there in black and white.

Fear the police. I do.

I was recently fired after being a police officer for 15+ years with the same agency. Two of the reasons, documented in writing, for firing me included my refusing to continue to interrogate suspects after they invoked their Rights and complaining about another officer who blatantly violated 2 peoples Rights by detaining them for a lenght of time with no reasonable suspicion. One might think an officer that doesn't follow the code of silence should be rewarded, not fired.

The comments to this entry are closed.