Wednesday, December 05, 2007

West Bend, The Police, Owen, and an Idiot TIC Minion

Makes for a national blog conversation.

To summarize the story, a particular blog of Owen's at Boots & Sabers elicited a comment from a person who was posing as a conservative opposed to tax increases. The post was complete with misspellings and praise for the Columbine killers. The post contained a threat against teachers.

Well, the comment came to the police's attention who contacted Owen and they asked for the IP of the poster. It turns out the poster was a former president of a teacher's union chapter and was spoofing a conservative to attempt to discredit Boots & Sabers. Owen through Boots & Sabers and a column he writes for the local paper helped to drive the opposition that defeated a recent school spending referendum.

Now, for the complete setting a few posts later the commentator posted that his first post was not serious. However, despite the disclaimer the police took it seriously. Owen turned over the IP and the police tracked down and arrested the commentator.

This incident has been picked up on a national scale with Little Green Footballs, The Jawa Report, and reports have CNN noting the story too. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a write of the story.

The reaction to the incident is interesting. Until the story started getting attention the reaction for the most part contained two major themes.
  1. The police are overreacting. Once they investigated the situation and determined no threat was imminent or remotely real they should have let it drop

  2. Owen had no obligation to protect the IP address of the poster

Of course, the above two points are general and not universal.

However, now the story is getting national attention and Owen's blog is getting visits by references from many different websites the reaction is starting to shift and shift like the game where you whisper a sentence in a friend's ear and the sentence goes around the circle and when it comes back to the start the sentence is completely wrong.

Here is one blog on the topic & its comments thread. The comments range from twooferistic:
Could the person behind this be maybe Owen or Jeb themselves in one way or another? Remember that Owen admits to having freely given up the poster’s IP address,(basically his identity,) to an emailer who advised he was a detective with the West Bend police (make sure you save that Owen along with a complete copy of the blog and comments,) and that Jeb was able to deliver it to the officer, without any legal process required, within minutes. And remember Owen’s excuse that he was so willing to give up the poster’s IP address voluntarily, because he just thought the cops would “find him, chew him out a bit for being an idiot, and leave it alone.”
Source: Boots & Sabers – B&S Commenter Arrested
It's all a vast right-wing conspiracy! I bet this guy can even time the evil RoverMcChimplerBurton into it all!

To the reasoned:

If you post something that directly or indirectly suggested violence to a person or specific group of people, and then that information gets in front of a member of law enforcement, you’re putting yourself in a position of suspicion. Especially in this day and age. More than likely, this idiot got arrested, questioned, and the charge will get dropped. Better that happens than some nut goes and shoots someone, and it comes out later that some internet threats were brought to the police and they chose to do nothing.
Source: Boots & Sabers – B&S Commenter Arrested

As I have been stating quite often, if the police did not investigate, if Owen did not cooperate, and even if nothing came of the threat can you imagine how that would appear? Mr. Buss's identity would not be revealed and Owen would be accused of allowing comments that incited others to violence. If the threat would have become real than nearly the entire left side (and a good portion of the right side too) of the nation would be screaming for Owen's head.

Even a Ronpaululan joins in and uses it to plug his/her favorite candidate:
This is a perfect example of our freedoms being slowly taken away from us due to the police state of the USA.Its time to vote for Ron Paul to restore our USA freedoms.
Source: Boots & Sabers – B&S Commenter Arrested

Some commentators are completely clueless and to characterize their comments makes my mind hurt.

What I find interesting about the commentary threads is its evolution. It seems the prevailing wind in the commentary has turned against Owen. It seems most of the more recent commentors believe Owen had an obligation to shield the Mr. Buss's IP from the police. I do not know where that obligation comes from, do you? The Constitution only burdens the state with the requirement to obtain a warrant if the information source is not cooperative. It does not burden citizens with demanding anything.

A new tack taken by some is due to Owen's side-line as a columnist in the West Bend Daily News is that Owen owes his sources protection. Again why? A journalist is under no obligation, that matters more than a handshake, to protect any source. An extreme hypothetical. If a journalist's source said a bomb was going to go off and hurt a number of people is the journalist then obligated to protect that source? Even after the event? Of course, if a journalist still wants to get good tips and information they have to respect the confidentiality they promise but there is no constitutional requirement any journalist (blogger, fishwrap, radio, TV, or otherwise) keep their sources confidential. In any event, a comment on a blog is not a source. An e-mail sent to only the blogger in question I would consider to be a source and to carry with a reasonable expectation of privacy in its content.

The silliest objection raised by many is the expectation of privacy. Why someone expects privacy in a public forum is beyond me. Yeah, the IPs are not revealed but the constitution concerns itself mainly with the message and not the delivery. That is, there is no expectation of privacy in a public forum, so just because the IP is not published don't expect it to be private or to receive privacy expectations.

Now onto the comment's content. The argument that his comments were not serious and should not have triggered an arrest are the only ones that make sense. In this I would have thought after the police interviewed Mr. Buss and searched his house they should have been satisfied no physical harm was every intended and therefore dropped the manner. However, they placed him under arrest and according the article I link above are charging him with disorderly conduct, and some other charge related to the making of threats with computer equipment.

I am in full agreement the police (on behalf of West Bend teachers) were correct to investigate, I am much less certain an arrest and in fact I state the police should NOT have arrested Mr. Buss.

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