U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

FBI raids home, office of independent journalist on hacking allegations

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 8, 2023
Tampa, Florida
Status of Seized Equipment
In custody
Search Warrant Obtained
Actor who seized equipment
Law enforcement

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue

A portion of the search warrant federal investigators filed for the devices and records of Florida-based journalist Tim Burke. During a search of Burke’s Tampa home and office on May 8, 2023, FBI agents seized two dozen pieces of journalistic equipment.

May 8, 2023

Florida-based independent journalist Tim Burke awoke on May 8, 2023, to the sound of FBI agents banging on the door of his Tampa home with a search warrant. By the time the raid ended approximately 10 hours later, agents had seized virtually all of the electronics in his newsroom.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the raid was connected to a criminal probe into “alleged computer intrusions and intercepted communications at the Fox News Network.” At least six behind-the-scenes clips of former Fox host Tucker Carlson were leaked over the past year. The broadcaster has asserted that it did not authorize the release of the footage and that its systems could have been hacked.

Burke, who worked previously at Deadspin and The Daily Beast, has made a career of capturing publicly available livestreams. The Times reported that he launched Burke Communications in 2019, offering contract work and consulting, as well as access to his 181,000-gigabyte video archive.

According to the search warrant for his home, which was unsealed on May 26, officers were authorized to seize all of Burke’s electronics or physical records of alleged violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The warrant also stipulated that officers could force residents to unlock devices enabled with biometrics, including fingerprints or facial recognition.

In total, federal agents seized nine computers, seven hard drives, four cellphones and four notebooks from Burke’s home and the guest house that serves as his office. Two computers belonging to Lynn Hurtak, Burke’s wife and a Tampa City Council member, were also seized, along with a third that the couple both used, Burke told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in August.

Attorney Mark Rasch, who is representing Burke and created the Justice Department’s Computer Crime Unit, denied any criminal behavior by Burke.

“Hacking is not simply obtaining information that someone would rather you not,” Rasch told the Tracker. “And hacking is also not going to a website that someone would prefer that you not or finding information that they would prefer that you not.”

Rasch said that Burke uses no special software or tools to access or record live feeds, and that viewing them does not require a username or password. Rather, Burke has cultivated search skills and sources that direct him to the URLs where they are publicly visible.

Burke told the Tracker that he’s worked as an assignment editor his entire career, and sees his current work as an extension of that: sifting through content to identify newsworthy material for publication.

“I have always promoted my approach of taking video in its most raw nature as being the best we have when it comes to veracity,” Burke said. “The raw video is the truth. That’s what journalism is, that’s what we’re reporting.”

But Burke told the Tracker that the seizure of his electronics has made it impossible for him to continue his journalistic work.

“It’s very difficult for me to do most of the things that I do as a journalist without my contacts that are on my phone or without the video editing softwares that are on my computer,” Burke said. “I just want to get back to doing this thing that I’ve dedicated my life to.”

The seizures also caused Burke to be locked out of his email, social media, banking and other important accounts. According to Rasch, federal prosecutors asked that Burke waive his Fifth Amendment rights and provide the passcode to his cellphone so it could be cloned. Burke refused.

Burke told the Tracker that prosecutors later said they no longer needed the passcode, and allowed him to access the device to transfer the two-factor authentication applications he needed.

On July 21, Rasch filed a motion for the return of Burke’s devices and to unseal the affidavit submitted in support of the search warrant, which he believes will provide insights into the basis on which Burke is being investigated.

Rasch also highlighted that multiple Justice Department officials — including the U.S. attorney general — are required to approve searches involving journalists or newsrooms, and details of whether investigators followed that procedure should be in the affidavit.

The government response to Rasch’s motion is due by Aug. 9, according to court records.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].