When the FBI staged a terror raid on the New York home of 41-year-old Elliot Madison, they were not looking for weapons of war, deadly chemicals or the keys to unlocking a nefarious terror plot. Instead, they came looking for books, files, data, film and something called the “instruments of crime.”
According to officials, the search was instigated after Madison was found in a Pennsylvania hotel room on Sept. 24, listening to police actions during Pittsburgh’s G20 summit, then Tweeting to protesters seeking to avoid authorities.
Vic Walczak, legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU, sees the FBI’s action as pure “intimidation,” and part of a “much bigger war on demonstrators” in Pittsburgh.
He made the remarks during a Monday interview on CNN’s Newsroom.
“What you have here is folks who are charged with hindering apprehension of people who were engaging in criminal activities,” he said. “The criminals identified in the warrant are protesters against the G20. Their crime? They were demonstrating in the street without a permit.”
Madison, who has widely been described as an “anarchist” by media parroting FBI claims, is a social worker in New York who holds two masters degrees from the University of Wisconsin.
Walczak continued: “The police said, ‘Get out of here,’ and apparently they did. Somebody was trying to help them not go where the police are. Instead of saying ‘thank you, you’re helping these folks disperse,’ they now get charged with what is really a felony.”
In other words: “Be careful what you twit for, because your 140 characters could land you in the slammer,” quipped Andrew Belonsky at Vallywag.
“Though the FBI says so, it’s not entirely clear from the complaint that Madison’s tweets were actually illegal,” noted Ars Technica. “Madison’s lawyer told the New York Times on Saturday that he and a friend were merely ‘part of a communications network among people protesting the G-20.’ As implied through the Times piece, Madison’s tweets merely directed protesters as to where the police were at any given time and to stay alert. ‘There’s absolutely nothing that he’s done that should subject him to any criminal liability.'”
Eileen Clancy with I-Witness Video added: “There are myriad examples of governments in other countries cracking down on activists who share information on the Internet. After Moldova’s short-lived ‘Twitter revolution,’ journalist Natalia Morar was charged with organizing an anti-Communist flashmob and spent three weeks under house arrest. In Guatemala a man was charged with advising in a Tweet that people should take their money out of a corrupt government bank. According to Hadi Ghaemi, who runs the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, many people have been arrested for Internet activity in Iran.”
“This is the first time we’ve heard of charges like this against people who are using Twitter […]” said Walczak. “If this happened in Iran or China, where we know Twitter has been widespread because people in this country have been relying on it to find out what’s going on. If it was used there, we’d be crying foul, we’d be calling it a human rights violation. And when the same thing happens in this country, all of the sudden it’s a crime. There’s a real problem here.”
Copies of the search warrant and Madison’s lawyer’s motion for return of seized property were posted to the Internet by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, available here.
This video is from CNN’s Newsroom, broadcast Oct. 5, 2009.