First and foremost, I want to assure MauiTime readers and the community at large that we plan to fight this subpoena, protect the identities and First Amendment rights of our online commenters and uphold the Constitutional guarantee of a free press.
I know that comments—especially anonymous comments—can be nasty. Many such comments have been directed at me. But I also know that free speech is a fundamental, essential right upon which our society is built. To violate that basic principle, even in the face of pressure from government officials and law enforcement, would undermine what MauiTime has fought for since its founding and what newspapers, especially alternative newspapers, stand for.
In fact, this week the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies—of which MauiTime is a member—adopted a resolution that reads, in part: “The Board of Directors of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies CONDEMNS the attempt by Maui authorities to force this disclosure, and SUPPORTS the right of MauiTime and Tommy Russo to oppose this subpoena and CALLS ON the district attorney of Maui to immediately withdraw this subpoena and cease all efforts to chill the free speech rights of MauiTime readers.”
I believe the subpoena is flawed for a number of reasons. First, I do not believe the comment in question amounts to terroristic threatening. Second, I believe the Hawaii media shield law, which was recently extended by the state legislature and protects journalists from being forced to reveal sources and unpublished information, may apply in this case. Third, I believe MPD is overstepping its bounds by requesting IP addresses for all comments during a 24-hour period, implicating commenters whose words may be critical of Officer Johnson and MPD but in no way amount to criminal statements. Finally, I believe MPD is mistaken in its assertion that an IP address—which is frequently tied to a group of users on the same Internet connection, often in different households—will necessarily lead to the individual who posted the comment.
In the end, this is about more than a handful of commenters at mauitime.com. This is about everyone who has ever posted a comment on the Internet and assumed they were protected by the First Amendment. MPD is asking us to take the first, perilous step down a very slippery slope that could quickly and dramatically erode basic free speech protections. Where will it stop?
If it’s up to us, it’ll stop right here. ■