Yesterday was my 20th blogging anniversary. I admit it carried more emotional freight than I expected. 20 years is a long time to do anything, let alone something that's so personal and yet so public.

As it happens, an anonymous reader gave me a hell of a blogiversary gift: my first-ever FBI investigation! I've spoken to FBI agents before (Agent: Does your Tor exit node keep logs by any chance? Me: Nope. Agent: Dang), but I've never actually been *investigated*.


My phone rang with an unfamiliar local number. A calm voice on the other end introduced itself as an FBI special agent with the LA office. I pointed out that this was an unlikely claim and asked for a switchboard number I could call back on.

The agent said this was an entirely reasonable thing to do. A few minutes later, I was back on the phone with him.


Me: What can I do for you?

Him: I'm calling about a blog post you published. I'm sure you know which.

Me: Uh, no.

Him: The one about toppling statues.

He meant this post:

tldr: it's a link to a Popular Mechanics article on the science of toppling monuments, with a brief intro and summary.



There's nothing illegal in that post, but also you should never talk to cops without a lawyer, so I asked him if he minded my setting up a time to make that happen. He said that was fine with him.

My EFF colleague Mark Rumold was kind enough to volunteer to call the special agent. He reported back shortly thereafter to say that the agent was responding to a complaint, and that he agreed my post was not unlawful in any way.


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Mark confirmed for the agent that I was not planning any unlawful activity, and the agent asked him to remind me that people can misinterpret the things we publish on the internet.

That was it.

It was an anticlimax, sure. I confess that I was a little freaked out. It was just the anniversary of Aaron Swartz's death, and my mind kept going back to his account of the time the FBI showed up to ask him about PACER, and the horrors that followed.


But it's over. The agent, to his credit, was pleasant and reasonable. But I'm mystified by the complaint - my guess is some troll has figured out that you can sic the FBI on people you disagree with on the internet - and even more by the fact that the FBI acted on it.


They must have the discretion to decide when a complaint rises to the level of using a special agent's time and when it should go in the kook folder. Seems to me that filing complaints about my post in the kook folder should have been a no-brainer.

I'm looking into using FOIA and the 1974 Privacy Act to find out what kind of file this generated, and to have that record expunged.


In the meantime, I'm declaring a federal criminal investigation to be the Official 20th Blogiversary gift.


@pluralistic Whaaat, that's crazy! Also, a hell of a story to tell.

Could one complain to the FBI about that racist guy that doesn't want to get out of the White House? 😁

@pluralistic It's great that that was the end of it, but imagine that the reported article was written by some who doesn't have white male privilege. By someone who doesn't have connections to the EFF or other agencies that can help them. Imagine how different the FBI response would be for pretty much anyone but you.

Now think about what it would mean for someone who is trying to target others to see that reporting a blog post to the FBI results in a phone call. You're enabling them. wtf dude.

@bouncinglime You're right. The obvious thing for an immigrant who's been put in danger of incarceration and losing his residency is to simply be silent, rather than sounding the alarm about a broken system that puts people in serious risk. After all, only the world's most sophisticated genius reactionary could every think of calling the FBI on someone they like and no one will ever independently rediscover this brilliantly original tactic.

@bouncinglime Also, if you're a woman who discovers that vulnerabilities in your phone OS let your abusive former partner stalk you, you should keep silent, because once the existence of stalkerware is widespread, other women will be in danger.

@bouncinglime if there's one thing that having privilege demands of you, it's that you NOT keep silent when you discover that the system has a vulnerability that can be used to target people more marginalized than you. The culprit here is the FBI, not the person they victimized and who blew the whistle despite the risk that creates.

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