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This article was published on January 3, 2010

Bloggers Under Attack: Travel Bloggers Subpoenaed by the TSA

Bloggers Under Attack: Travel Bloggers Subpoenaed by the TSA
Regina Walton
Story by

Regina Walton

Regina is founder of Organic Social Media, providing blogging and social media services. She earned her master’s in international studies fr Regina is founder of Organic Social Media, providing blogging and social media services. She earned her master’s in international studies from Ewha Womans University, earned her J.D. from University of California, Hastings College of the Law and earned her B.A. in English and philosophy at UCLA. Follow Regina on Twitter or go to her LinkedIn.com profile, MediaBistro.com page or blog for more information.

Picture 64This is an interesting story about two prominent travel bloggers coming under attack. The US Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) tried to bully two bloggers into revealing their source.

The TSA, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), had a failed attempt to subpoena two travel bloggers for information on their source.

The DHS subpoenaed Flying with Fish’s Stephen Frischling and Chris Elliott, who also writes for the National Geographic and the Washington Post to reveal who leaked TSA Security Directive SD-1544-09-06. The security directive explains the travel security enhancements implemented after the failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up Delta’s Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Frischling and Elliot were served with the subpoenas last Tuesday. Both bloggers immediately wrote about it on their respective blogs: Frischling’s and Elliot’s. Wired, the AP, the Huffington Post, and Boing Boing picked up the story.

The result was the DHS’ bullying tactics back-fired and caused the department a lot of embarrassment.   The DHS withdrew the subpoenas on Thursday.   However, by the time the subpoenas were withdrawn the DHS had threatened to get Frischling fired and had taken his laptop. One can probably conclude that they had the information they needed by Thursday even though there is no way to confirm that for sure. Frischling told Wired that John Drennan, deputy chief counsel for enforcement at TSA, called him on Thursday to let him know the subpoena had been withdrawn.

Frischling, who writes another blog for KLM Dutch Royal Airlines, says Drennan apologized to him when he learned that the two TSA agents who visited him had threatened to get him fired from his KLM contract if he didn’t provide them with information about an anonymous source who sent him the security directive.

Frischling said the two agents who visited him arrived around 7 p.m. Tuesday, were armed and threatened him with a criminal search warrant if he didn’t provide the name of his source. They also indicated they could get him designated a security risk, which would make it difficult for him to travel and do his job.

“They came to the door and immediately were asking, ‘Who gave you this document?, Why did you publish the document?’ and ‘I don’t think you know how much trouble you’re in.’ It was very much a hardball tactic,” he told Threat Level.

Through all of this Elliot, the other blogger, stood up for his rights and refused to give up any information.

A second blogger who was also served a subpoena on Tuesday, Christopher Elliott, was also told his subpoena was being withdrawn. Elliott had refused to cooperate with the agent who served him the subpoena and had indicated to the TSA that he would be challenging the subpoena in federal court next week.

The problem with all of this? The security directive was unclassified.  It was sent to airports and airlines all around the world. By the time Frischling and Elliot published it, the information was already public.

What do you think?

Should you ever get subpoenaed, here is a primer from The Electronic Frontier Foundation on what to do when you don’t want to hand over information.

Sources: Wired’s Threat Level blog – TSA Withdraws Subpoenas Against Bloggers and The Economist – TSA bullies travel bloggers

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