Cypherpunk's Free Speech Defense
by Declan McCullagh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2:00 a.m. Apr. 9, 2001 PDT
TACOMA, Washington -- Jim Bell took the witness stand in federal court
on Friday to argue he was attempting to document illegal behavior, not
stalk government agents.
Bell described his electronic research last year -- which the Justice
Department says led federal agents to fear for their safety -- as
entirely lawful and said he never intended to hurt or threaten anyone.
The 43-year-old chemist and entrepreneur freely admitted he bought
motor vehicle databases and did Internet searches on the names of
Treasury Department agents as part of his effort to uncover illegal
surveillance by the U.S. government. Bell is charged with five federal
counts of interstate stalking, and the jury trial began last Tuesday.
A key part of the government's case against Bell is a political essay
he wrote titled "Assassination Politics," a thought experiment which
advocates a method to slaughter miscreant federal officials using
anonymous remailers, digital cash, and the Internet.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robb London said that since Bell has refused
to renounce his beliefs incorporated into that essay, he should be
viewed as a menace to society. London said Bell's research into
personal information about agents was an "obsessive campaign by an
individual to harass them."
"Mr. Bell was posting things publicly on the Internet," London said.
"You can't go out there and do this stuff and think there's no chance
your victims will find out."
This case raises the question of what actions are protected by the
First Amendment's guarantees of free expression and what crosses the
line and becomes illegal harassment.