U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Using obscure legal justification, NYPD subpoenas reporter's records

Incident Details

Date of Incident
December 9, 2019
New York, New York
New York Post

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Third-party: Twitter (tech company)
Legal Order Venue

A portion of the subpoena for New York Post reporter Tina Moore's Twitter information

— Screenshot
December 9, 2019

The New York Police Department subpoenaed Twitter for the account information of a New York Post journalist on Dec. 9, 2019, as part of a departmental leak investigation.

The Post reported that its police bureau chief Tina Moore tweeted out crime scene photos in mid-October that “appear to be at the center of the NYPD subpoena.”

The subpoena, published by the Post, commands Twitter to produce all device and contact information for Moore’s Twitter account, as well as her handle’s IP and internet connection history from Oct. 9 through Oct. 14.

Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor at John Jay College who specializes in digital forensics and cybersecurity, told the Post the subpoena appears to focus not on Moore’s communications but “where she is and what equipment was used.”

Wandt said the information requested could be used to create a “network trail,” geo-locating Moore’s movements over the requested days.

The subpoena claims legal authority under the city’s administrative code and the Patriot Act — a federal law passed following 9/11 which expanded law enforcement authorities. The provision of the act cited pertains to the digital transfer of information and metadata, which the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press noted is one of the most obscure sections.

NYPD spokesperson Sgt. Jessica McRorie confirmed to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the department has an open investigation into the source of the leaked photos.

“Tina Moore was never the focus of our investigation,” McRorie said in a statement. McRorie declined to answer further questions on the focus of the subpoena and why the Patriot Act was cited.

Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement, “Using the Patriot Act to subpoena a journalist’s social media data is not only a gross overstep by the New York Police Department, it is reminiscent of how countries without democratic safeguards use anti-terrorism laws to dampen or retaliate against critical journalism.”

In early February 2020, Twitter notified Moore of the subpoena. The social media company confirmed to the Tracker that it did not comply with the subpoena.

The NYPD withdrew the request on Feb. 13, after attorneys for the Post contacted the department, the Post reported.

Moore declined to comment.

In a statement to The New York Times, Post spokeswoman Iva Benson said the police department’s actions were “antithetical to a free press.”

“The Patriot Act was passed to make it easier to prevent deadly terror attacks, not help the government crack down on people who speak to reporters,” Benson said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on NY1 show “Inside City Hall” that the subpoena was a mistake.

“I think the effort to ensure that information that is not public is kept confidential — that’s fair. But subpoenaing a reporter in that fashion? I’m not comfortable with that. Freedom of the press really matters,” de Blasio said.

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