But here’s the thing us non-lawyers might think of first: To the extent that the feds actually thought these were serious plans to do real harm, why the hell would they respond with a slow-moving subpoena whose deadline was days away? By spending five minutes doing the laziest, George-Jetson-style online “research” (read: Google and site searches), they would have found publicly available info on some of the commenters. I’m talking things like websites and Google+ pages. One of the commenters had literally posted thousands of comments at Reason.com, from which it is clear that he (assuming it is a he) is not exactly a threat to anyone other than common decency.
But that’s your tax dollars at work, costing a reputable, award-winning website—albeit one that is sharply critical of government when it comes to snooping in the boardroom and the bedroom—time and money to comply with a subpoena for non-threatening readers. Even worse, the feds are doing the same to readers who may or may not have any resources to help them comply with legal proceedings that can go very wrong very quickly.
“Subpoenaing Reason’s website records, wasting its staff’s time and forcing it to pay legal fees in hopes of imposing even larger legal costs (or even a plea bargain or two) on the average Joes who dared to voice their dissident views in angry tones sends an intimidating message: It’s dangerous not just to create something like Silk Road,” writes former Reason editor Virginia Postrel at Bloomberg View, concisely defining the chilling effect such actions have. “It’s dangerous to defend it, and even more dangerous to attack those who would punish its creator. You may think you have free speech, but we’ll find a way to make you pay.”