ACLU to file suit against FBI on Web video artist’s behalf
The American Civil Liberties Union has announced plans to sue the Federal
Bureau of Investigation for what staff lawyers describe as the agency's
disjointed and unconstitutional practice of monitoring the Internet.
Ann Beeson, national staff attorney for the ACLU, said the group would file
the lawsuit on behalf of a New York Web video artist whose work became the
subject of an FBI investigation last month.
“We're filing a complaint about the investigative policy or practice the FBI
has in place for dealing with Web content,” Beeson said. “It's very unclear and very odd that [the FBI] would be taking this approach to
this kind of content when we all know there is much more offensive content out
Beeson said she hoped to file the lawsuit before the year's end, adding that
she hasn't decided where to file it. The lawsuit will seek damages for
violations of the artist's First Amendment free-speech rights.
The FBI, meanwhile, has dropped its investigation of crowdedtheater.com, a
Web site featuring a grainy six-minute video of a fictional government plot to
spark a New Year's Eve race riot in Times Square.
The producer of the video, performance artist Mike Zieper, has said in
published reports that the video was farcical and not meant to depict a real
military operation. Zieper said FBI agents visited his home last month, leaving
him with the impression that the video should be removed.
Zieper did not respond to an e-mail sent to the address posted on his Web
site. FBI spokesman James Margolin also did not return calls from the First Amendment Center last week or this morning.
In an interview last week, Margolin said the agency
became involved in an investigation after receiving calls from people who
thought the site's “Blair Witch Project”-style video about a planned race riot
Agents and a deputy U.S. marshal also contacted Mark Wieger, president of
BECamation, a Michigan-based Internet service provider that hosted Zieper's Web
site. But the FBI and Wieger offered conflicting accounts about whether Wieger
was ordered to remove the video from the Internet.
Wieger said his company removed the video after being contacted by Joe
Metzinger of the FBI and by an assistant U.S. attorney, both based in Manhattan.
Wieger said he was told “litigation is in progress,” and he would lose his
company if he did not comply with the order.
Margolin said the agent and the assistant U.S. attorney didn't make any
Wieger removed the site but put it back up 10 days later when he said he
learned that the FBI had not secured a subpoena. The two officials “basically
lied to us,” Wieger said.
Wieger said hits to the home page of his 2-year-old Internet service provider
jumped from a total of 4,000 to more than 8,000 in less than two weeks.
“It's pretty amazing that the site's been up for two years and we've nearly
doubled the hits in nine days,” he said.
Wieger said he might join the ACLU lawsuit because he became the victim of an
e-mail assault from irate computer users who learned of the incident from a
Village Voice article and postings on slashdot.org.
“For three or four days I received 1,000 e-mails calling me every name in the
book,” he said. “I literally lost hundreds and hundreds of hours responding to