The Department of Justice said it won't seek out data distinguishing the readers of a USA TODAY story from earlier this year, according to a Friday courtroom filing, but just after the FBI captured the alleged criminal it had been seeking via other ways.
It had been resisting an attempt by the FBI to obtain the IP addresses of individuals who read a story about a shooting of two FBI agents on Feb. 2. The subpoena sought only information on who read the story during a 30-minute time period later that evening.
"A government demand for records which would identify specific people who read specific expressive materials... invades the First Amendment rights of the reader and publisher, and must be quashed so," Gannett's attorneys wrote in a May 28 filing.
"Being made to inform the authorities who reads what on our sites is a clear violation of their First Amendment," she said in statement quoted at a USA TODAY narrative. "The FBI's subpoena asks for personal details about subscribers of the journalism."
The subpoena was authorized by J. Brooke Donahue, a supervisory special agent. The subpoena was later withdrawn by the FBI on Friday. However, the FBI never confessed the subpoena was incorrect. Instead, it was withdrawn since the FBI found the person that it was looking for.
In a statement given to Fox News, the FBI wrote:
"The administrative subpoena was issued in connection with a kid exploitation investigation and was limited to subscriber-related info in a narrow time window. It didn't seek any communications documents of journalists. The subpoena is being pulled because intervening investigative improvements have rendered it unnecessary."
An email from Keith Becker, the deputy chief of the DOJ Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, stated that"The FBI is withdrawing" that the subpoena"because the child sexual exploitation offender subject of this analysis has now been identified via other ways."
The FBI didn't immediately respond to a request for comment regarding whether it continues to believe it has the right to subpoena private information of news organizations' readers granted First Amendment protections for media and free association, as well as President Biden's professed devotion to press freedom.
The news that the FBI is backtracking on its effort to get information on USA TODAY readers comes as the DOJ is under scrutiny for efforts under both the Trump and Biden administrations to get terrorists' communications in a bid to identify their sources.
The New York Times reported Friday the DOJ, under both administrations, hunted the documents of four Times reporters from 2017. The Biden government informed a handful of Times executives about the battle but enforced a since-lifted gag order that prevented the executives by disclosing the attempts even to the executive editor, Dean Baquet.
According to the Times, the campaign -- which started in 2020 -- was to grab email logs from Google, which works the outlet's email system and'd denied the authorities access to the information.