Chris Elliott submits objection to DHS subpoena over security directive disclosure
UPDATE: The DHS this afternoon gave journalist Chris Elliott an extension until Jan. 20 to comply with a subpoena, his attorney told Tnooz. The initial deadline was Dec. 31.
The original post follows:
Facing a Dept. of Homeland Security subpoena and its Dec. 31 deadline, travel journalist Chris Elliott has not turned over any documents related to the source who provided him with the TSA’s secret Christmas Day security directive, his attorney says.
Attorney Anthony Elia, who’s representing Elliott, says he e-mailed a request Dec. 31 to TSA special agent Robert Flaherty, who served the civil subpoena at Elliott’s home on the evening of Dec. 29, asking for “additional time to allow the process to unfold in a reasonable way.”
Giving Elliott roughly two days to respond to the subpoena was an “inordinately short” period of time and “unreasonable,” Elia says, given the serious nature of the issues.
Elliott faces up to one year in prison and fines for failing to comply with the subpoena by Dec. 31, according to the document.
“It’s not something that should happen in two days,” Elia says, referring to dealing with the subpoena.
In the letter, Elia also objected to the subpoena, noting that there are First Amendment issues involved when the government compels a journalist to turn over confidential information, sources and materials.
“It should only be done under certain limited circumstances,” Elia says.
Elia says Elliott needs appropriate time to respond to the subpoena, but the attorney declined to detail what actions Elliott may take, if any, or what strategy he may follow.
The DHS subpoenaed Elliott and blogger Steve Frischling Dec. 29 after they published the security directive, which outlines new screening measures for international flights arriving in the U.S., on their respective blogs.
Elliott’s stance contrasts with Frischling’s, who apparently wasn’t represented by an attorney until after he already had signed a statement saying he didn’t know the identity of the source and gave his consent — he says under pressure — to handing over the hard drive to his computer, which he did Dec. 30. The hard drive was returned later in the day, but Frischling says it was damaged in the process.
Also, although Elliott apparently hasn’t assisted the TSA in its investigation of the leak, Frischling’s twitter account issued the following tweet on Dec. 29 at 10:05 p.m., at a time when two TSA agents could well have been in his home:
“To the gentleman who sent Flying With Fish the TSA Security Directive … Thank You! Can you drop me an email?I have a question. Thanks-Fish”
If you peruse Frischling’s personal Twitter account, the above tweet stands out as stylistically uncharacteristic, leading to questions about the origins of or circumstances surrounding the tweet and how any response may have been utilized.
Frischling said Dec. 30 — prior to signing a statement and turning over his computer — that the two TSA agents who visited his Connecticut home warned him they would contact KLM over the security-directive issue if he didn’t comply with the subpoena, and that this would end his ability to work with the airline industry. Frischling also is an airline industry consultant and corporate photographer.
Frischling said Dec. 31 that KLM has been supportive and cautioned him not to reference his TSA issue on the KLM blog or Twitter account.
In another development, I asked Google whether it had received a subpoena from the DHS about the security directive since the source apparently used a Gmail account to e-mail the security directive to Elliott and Frishling.
Google spokesman Brian Richardson responded: “We actually don’t talk about individual cases or potential requests to help protect all our users. Obviously, we follow the law like any other company. When we receive a subpoena or court order, we check to see if it meets both the letter and the spirit of the law before complying. And if doesn’t we can object or ask that the request is narrowed. We have a track record of advocating on behalf of our users.”
Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.