When the Police Knock on Your Door

December 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Last week the gent who writes the Tallbloke’s Talkshop climate skeptic blog in the UK was raided by police. In some places the incident has been described as a ‘midnight raid.’ But when I double-checked that point, Tallbloke said that although his first blog post on the matter appeared just before midnight, in fact the police showed up somewhere between 6:30 and 7 in the evening. They then stayed for more than three hours. (See the comment dated Dec. 20th at 7:22 am here.)

I’ve received one speeding ticket in my life and there was nothing particularly threatening about the brief conversation I had with the officer involved. But having six police officers enter one’s home and hang around for hours is no one’s idea of a good time.

Before any citizen in a free country is subjected to that sort of treatment there ought to be a highly compelling reason. Here in Canada the legal term is probable cause. And yet Tallbloke says the police have so far declined to provide any information that explains their actions – despite having told him he isn’t a suspect.

In another blog post Tallbloke describes the past few days:

For my good lady and myself, it has been a dark and difficult time over this last week. We have been raided by the police, had our main means of communication with the outside world confiscated [laptops and router] and our telephone line ripped out [apparently inadvertently by one of the officers], hounded by the press, libeled by a Harvard PhD and a Penn State professor among others and vilified by half the climateering blogosphere. We have cried tears of fear and frustration, endured quizzical looks from work colleagues and neighbours, lost sleep [and] had to support worried parents and relatives.

This is so not good.

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Much of the discussion of the above event has mentioned the formal notice sent to WordPress by the US Justice Department. That notice asked WordPress to freeze records associated with three blogs hosted on its US-based servers. Those blogs were:

In some quarters the second blog on the list has been confused with my own website – NOconsensus.org. Quite independently of each other, Jeff and I have both been riffing on the NOconsensus meme, but it is his blog that has had the misfortune to attract the attention of the US Justice Department.

Invited to write a piece for Canada’s National Post regarding the above matters, I did so yesterday. Published online last night under the headline Climate Crackdown, it appears on page FP13 of today’s print edition.

As I say on the About page here at this blog:

Climate skepticism is free speech. Alternative points-of-view deserve to be heard.

Not all the links made it into the newspaper version, so below is a cut-and-paste of the story I filed:

In recent days I’ve been receiving calls and e-mails asking what the US Justice Department wants with me. In fact, there has been a misunderstanding.

I write a blog about climate change dogma which has a similar web address to a blogger in the United Sates. It is that person – who publishes under the pen name Jeff Id at NOconsensus.wordpress.com – who is being targeted.

Earlier this month a trial attorney employed by the criminal division of the US Department of Justice sent a formal request to WordPress (the blogging software company owned by Automattic Inc.) to freeze for 90 days “all stored communications, records, and other evidence in your possession” regarding three climate skeptic blogs.

ClimateAudit.org – written by Canadian Steve McIntyre and hosted on WordPress’ US-based servers – was one of that trio. So was Tallbloke’s Talkshop, written by a UK resident and published at tallbloke.wordpress.com.

The Justice Department is interested in WordPress records spanning three days – November 21st to 23rd inclusive. At 4:09 am on November 22, someone calling themselves FOIA made a comment on McIntyre’s blog. It consisted solely of a link to a zip file posted online at a Russian web address. The zip file contained 5,000 e-mails written by some of the most prominent names in climate science.

Dubbed Climategate 2, these documents are still being examined and sifted. But e-mails have already come to light in which scientists employed by publicly funded universities in the UK and elsewhere discuss the deliberate deletion and removal of records from university computers. (In the UK, altering or deleting documents in an attempt to circumvent Freedom of Information legislation is a criminal offense.)

In these e-mails individuals such as Penn State University’s University of Pennsylvania’s Michael Mann also talk about ‘the cause’ they feel they are advancing. Moreover, these exchanges make it abundantly clear that the experts who’ve been conducting climate research (and writing reports about that research for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) have privately expressed doubts about the robustness of many of their findings.

The unidentified person who left the link to the zip file at McIntyre’s blog also left it at Jeff’s Id’s blog – and at Tallbloke’s. Since the latter resides in a timezone five hours ahead of McIntyre, Tallbloke received the link shortly past 9 am and appears to have been the first person to blog about it.

Which may be the reason he has attracted special police attention. Last week six officers, from three different divisions and armed with a search warrant, raided his Yorkshire home. They spent more than three hours there and although they assured him he isn’t a suspect, seized two of his laptops and an Internet router.

Tallbloke says the UK police told him they requested the assistance of the US Justice Department, rather than the other way around. He also says they were “well mannered and did not over-react” when he declined to give them his WordPress password. “I politely explained that they had a warrant to search my house, not my head.”

If the authorities are trying to identify the person who calls themselves FOIA (an acronym often associated with the Freedom of Information Act) who left these links, it makes sense for them to examine WordPress records since all three blogs are hosted on its servers. But I am aware of no reasonable explanation as to how violating the sanctity of a non-suspect blogger’s home and invading his privacy by seizing his laptops (which, no doubt, contain banking and other sensitive information) could possibly be helpful.

Nor is it obvious why the Justice Department asked WordPress “not to disclose the existence” of its notice to the bloggersthemselves . (To its credit WordPress forwarded a copy of the Justice Department’s letter to those concerned nonetheless.)

This is all rather chilling. It appears that being the proprietor of blog in which strangers leave links pointing to material on third-party websites now exposes one to being raided by the police.

As a commenter on another skeptic blog has observed: “the mere fact of the raid is ‘intimidating’ (potentially) to many…Some are braver or better situated than others to handle police scrutiny but NO ONE should have to face police raids merely for having a blog.”

Donna Laframboise is the author of the recently-published exposé of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert. She blogs at NoFrakkingConsensus.org

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