In recent months, the U.S. Justice Department has issued subpoenas against Facebook (FB, +0.30%) and web host DreamHost for records of thousands, perhaps millions, of citizens who expressed interest in protesting President Trump’s inauguration. Such requests, while perhaps well-intentioned, impinge on constitutional values embodied in the First, Fourth, and Fifth amendments. And worryingly, there is no good way now to ensure such values are respected.
Prosecutors often subpoena businesses for personal and revealing documents in white-collar and criminal cases. During the Whitewater investigation in 1998, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr demanded records from the Washington, D.C. bookstore Kramerbooks respecting President Clinton’s purchases. Five years earlier, Senate investigators subpoenaed Sen. Bob Packwood’s diaries.