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NPR’s Recent Report on FBI-DOJ’s Fake News Story Missed a Few Details

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In 2007 the US DOJ conducted a sting in which the FBI created a fake Seattle Times web page and sent a fake AP news story and link to a teenage suspect in case involving bomb threats at Timberline High School in Seattle, Washington. Upon clicking the link, the FBI installed malware on the suspect’s computer, revealing his location and internet address. The sting eventually led to the 15 year old’s arrest.

The Associated Press and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to require the FBI to hand over records of the 2007 “fake news story” operation. Congratulations to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for uncovering the sting and for the vital role that it plays in promoting privacy protection and awareness. The other organizations say they requested the records under the Freedom of Information Act but have yet to receive anything. So much for transparency, eh?

They went on to say that it damages the credibility of the independent news media when federal agents pose as journalists. This is probably true, but perhaps a small price to pay under these circumstances. FBI director James Comey assures us that no story was actually published and “only the suspect was fooled.”

“The AP argues that its name was ‘misappropriated,’ and calls the ploy ‘unacceptable.’ I’m pondering the acceptability of the stance taken by the press corp. There is no doubt that “every undercover operation involves ‘deception.”  The real problem in this report, the real issue for democracy has nothing to do with a standard sting used to save lives and maintain order and stability, but rather the extent to which the DOJ/ F.B.I.’s use of such techniques was in this and ALL OTHER CASES subject to close judicial oversight, by independent judges prior to execution. The 4th Amendment guarantees the individual protection from unreasonable searches and seizures as well as rights against self-incrimination and safeguards against entrapment. The installation of malware on a citizen’s private computer without the requisite oversight would  surely be unacceptable.

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