Gabriel Tane alerts us to an interesting story about online anonymity coming out of Jacksonville, Florida. Apparently, a member of the First Baptist Church there had been writing a blog that was critical of the church leadership. A local sheriff’s detective, Robert Hinson, who was (in addition to being a sheriff’s detective) a member of the same church, a provider of security to the church, a deacon at the church and a member of the church’s “disciplinary committee,” used his position in the sheriff’s office to open an official investigation into the blog, and was able to get Stephen Siegel, an assistant state attorney to issue a subpoena to reveal the blogger.
Once the blogger’s name was revealed to Hinson, he revealed the blogger’s name to church officials, closed down his “investigation” and (wow) destroyed the files related to the investigation. He claimed that the files were destroyed to “protect the civil rights” of the blogger — which is pretty funny since the entire investigation appears to have been designed to violate the civil right of anonymity of the blogger. Even more troubling, was that the state records concerning the subpoena were also destroyed — though the state attorney claims this was “inadvertent.” Meanwhile, with the blogger revealed to church leaders, he and his wife were accused of “sin,” and then filed a “trespass” warning against him, effectively barring him from the church.
The officer abused his status to get the identity of someone whose only crime was to be critical of the church the officer attended. He even got a subpoena to get the info. He stated that there was no evidence of any criminal behavior on the blog. He just wanted the information so he could give it to his church leaders.Then the church leaders demonstrated their power by using the information provided them by this officer. They kicked the blogger and his family out of the Church – saying he had sinned – to demonstrate t their power – they could find out what anyone was doing and punish them by defaming them.
The officer violated a citizen’s privacy by using the power of the state to get information for his religious leaders. He actually saw nothing wrong with that. His church leaders needed the information, he was a government official who could get it, so he did. He thought that was okay.
Opening an investigation and getting the DA involved because of what his Church leaders wanted. And no bells rang at all. That sure gives me comfort. Apparently the officer still has a job instead of being in jail. Nice.
Jacksonville sure sounds like a ‘wonderful’ place to live.
The citizen has settled a lawsuit against the city and state for their role. He has a suit against the church. Hope he wins big. Frankly, they should revoke the tax exempt status of that church – the pastor is paid something like $300,000 a year.. Then maybe they would get the message that this sort of abuse of power in not acceptable.