– Mar. 13, 2006:

In an unusual and little-known case, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office has seized four computer hard drives from a Lancaster newspaper as part of a statewide grand-jury investigation into leaks to reporters.

The dispute pits the government’s desire to solve an alleged felony – computer hacking – against the news media’s fear that taking the computers circumvents the First Amendment and the state Shield Law.

The state Supreme Court declined last week to take the case, allowing agents to begin analyzing the data.

“This is horrifying, an editor’s worst nightmare,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington. “For the government to actually physically have those hard drives from a newsroom is amazing. I’m just flabbergasted to hear of this.”

The grand jury is investigating whether the Lancaster County coroner gave reporters for the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal his password to a restricted law enforcement Web site. The site contained nonpublic details of local crimes. The newspaper allegedly used some of those details in articles.

If the reporters used the Web site without authorization, officials say, they may have committed a crime.

  1. jasontheodd says:

    wouldn’t this be the Lancaster County coroner’s liability??? If someone opens a door for you and you go in, are you more liable than the man who opened the door? Seriously, I’m curious…

  2. GregAllen says:

    I now know my next business: counter-indictment computer security consulting.

    Librarians, journalists and, of course, political activists should probably assume they will, someday, be investigated and indicted.

    This might include: routine 100% encryption of all hard drive data; full-path encryption of all internal communication; auto-data shredding; and off-shore mirrors of files (massively encrypted, of course).

    The first goal is to make the feds work like hell for every bit of data they might get off a confiscated computer. The second goal to to allow the victim to get up-and-running as soon a possible after confiscation.

    If the neocons are hell bent on turning America into “fascism-lite,” I might as make a buck off of it.

  3. gquaglia says:

    “wouldn’t this be the Lancaster County coroner’s liability??? If someone opens a door for you and you go in, are you more liable than the man who opened the door? Seriously, I’m curious…”

    No, if true, the paper knew it was doing something wrong by accessing a site they knew they weren’t suppose to have access to. They are just as lible

  4. site admin says:

    This whole thing is like the cop who puts the file on the table and leave the room after telling the reporter not to look at the file knowing the reporter will. This sort of thing happens often. The problem with taking the whole hard drive makes this a fishing expedition. It’s amazing to me that the Penn Attny General actually did this. Then again this is the state that is run by Verizon and Comcast. I suspect there is something fishy as usual.

  5. Lou says:

    No big deal here. Constitutional rights and laws clash all the time. Freedom of the press does not necessarily give the right to break laws.

    I would hope the following:

    * the suponea is very specific and only allows the government to check and use data relevant to the charge at hand, and is not a fishing expedition against the newspaper

    *if the taking of the hard drives hurts the ability for the paper to function, the government do everything it can to get it overwith quickly.

  6. Improbus says:

    Behold the power of encryption and use it dummies. Don’t make the mistake of trusting your government.

  7. Ethan says:


    I fully agree with you. Let me know if you need a partner.

  8. pete in Midland says:

    I guess I must be one of those dreaded neocons … whatever the heck that is … since I’m pretty astonished at the comments that seem to be supporting possible illegal activities by these reporters. Funny how “freedom of the press” never seems to add responsibility to the freedom.
    No wonder the company I work for had to add that idiotic warning message about non authorized people not being allowed access … it’s probably the only way they can legally counter people who think confidential information isn’t really confidential if they can steal it ….

  9. Jim says:

    I always think it is funny when reporters and publisher are held responsible for their actions.

    It really upsets them. It is almost like they are held to the same standards as they expect ofeveryone else.

  10. joshua says:

    freedom of the press isn’t an issue here. It’s an issue of law breaking by reporters and or editors of a local paper. They committed a crime when they used that code to peek into those files. Then using the info in articles was the same as disiminating confidential info…another crime.
    Those files have unpublished info for a reason, usually to help find the perpatrator of the crime, but sometimes to protect the family of or the victim themselves.
    And if I’m not mistaken, it’s not some neocon attorny general here, I believe he is a liberal Democrat.

  11. The Infidel says:

    Why isn’t this story getting any play in the MSM or bigger media. Maybe its like the Ph.D from Berkley once told me “Beware the Government-Media complex.”

  12. Mr. Fusion says:

    gquaglia, pete, jim, and joshua,

    I don’t think any of you guys get the idea. The reporters weren’t subpoenaed, their notes weren’t subpoenaed and apparently only one editor from a sister publication was subpoenaed to testify. The computers weren’t subpoenaed, they were confiscated.

    A newspaper lawyer told the Judge,:
    “evidence has been presented to the attorney general which makes it clear that the county coroner, an elected official, invited and authorized the paper or reporters access to the restricted portion of the Web site… . If somebody is authorized to give me a password and does, it’s not hacking.”

    To take the computers is overkill. If the AG knew what he was looking for then it should have been specified in the subpoena. As it wasn’t specified, it can only be viewed as a fishing expedition.

    If people are afraid that any tips they pass on to reporters might be discovered by the government via these fishing expeditions, then we will see fewer whistle blowers come forth. It is the freedom of the press that keeps our government honest. Or, most of want to believe.

    Now, can any of you four guys/girls state what “crime” this newspaper committed? You all suggest the newspaper did something wrong, but it is the coroner who is the subject o the investigation, not the newspaper.


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