While the Twittersphere has been abuzz with outrage over Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's use of a grand jury subpoena to unmask anonymous critics, legal experts have even graver concerns.
Questions regarding Corbett's motive still abounded, but it was his use of a grand jury for a purpose other than securing an indictment that proved even more chilling for some people. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania further described as "completely inappropriate" a cover letter that accompanied the subpoena sent to Twitter.
The cover letter, signed by the investigating grand jury's executive secretary, asked that Twitter not reveal the existence of the subpoena.
"It's more than chilling," said Vic Walczak, the ACLU's legal director. "If I'm not a constitutional lawyer, I'm not going to say 'boo' to anybody, even though I have a right to do so."
Very few of us are constitutional lawyers - or lawyers at all, a fact that Corbett's office relies upon as it drags people before a grand jury for any reason that strikes Corbett's whim.
Most people won't ignore a subpoena. (Most people who aren't cabinet officials.) Most people assume that a subpoena from the highest-ranking law official in the state is legitimate. Most people assume the questions they're being asked in a grand jury are in the furtherance of a legitimate investigative purpose.
Investigating grand juries are for investigating crimes. The jurors, not being lawyers, may not be expected to know this. But surely the esteemed Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may be expected to know this.
Or not: "...deputy attorneys general the ACLU talked with during the Twitter affair had a reaction of, 'We do this all the time. What's the problem?'" Walczak told the Legal Intelligencer.
We do this all the time? What's the problem?
"I hope somebody is going to look into whether this is a legitimate use of law enforcement authority," said Sam Bayard, the assistant director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
Bayard clearly hasn't spent much time in Pennsylvania, where journalistic curiosity and political courage are in severely short supply.