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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

On Monday evening, Legal Schnauzer received an anonymous comment that I interpreted to be a death threat. How should a blogger handle such a situation? I'm not aware of any textbook or position paper on the subject, so there seems to be no clear-cut answer. But I can tell you what I've done, so far.

In the four-plus years that I've been producing this blog, I've received probably 50 to 75 anonymous messages that had a threatening tone. I'm guessing that 20 to 30 of those have been ugly enough to cause me some measure of alarm. I've never described any blog-related communication that I thought caused me to be in danger of bodily harm or death--until now.

What's different about this most recent message? Well, I explained that, in a general sense, with a post yesterday afternoon. Mainly, the timing of the comment--and the content of the post to which it was attached--made me think the individual behind this one might be dangerous.

But I've done a layman's investigation that adds some troubling specifics to the story. We're going to examine some of those specifics, as revealed by a few common Web tools. And we're going to ask, "Have I been the victim of a federal crime?"

In a broader sense, I would like to pose several "big picture" questions: What should a blogger do when an anonymous messenger veers from "disagreeable" or "nasty" to "menacing"? Can writing a blog, or practicing citizen journalism as we do here, truly put your life at risk? If you report such threats, will law-enforcement officials take them seriously? What kind of law governs such behavior?

I welcome comments and ideas from readers because I don't claim to have the absolute answer to all, or any, of these questions.

A good analytics service, many of which are available for free on the Web, might be your best weapon against those who spread fear via e-mail or blog comments. Google Analytics probably is the best known such service, but there are many others out there. Here is a list of the top five blog statistics trackers.

I first read the threatening message, through my Blogger comment-moderation notice, at about 9 p.m. on Monday (August 29). After deciding to publish the comment, I promptly went to my stat service to scroll back about two hours; that's because the comment was time stamped at 6:55 p.m., on a post dated Tuesday, August 23. Could I find someone who had clicked in the comment section of that post in the appropriate time frame?

The answer was yes--and there was only one visitor who proved to be a suspect. (Memo to bad guys: When you click on a post that is several days old, it is likely to have less traffic than a new post. That makes it much easier to track your activities. We never said these people were smart.)

What information did my stats service provide about this visitor? Here is the rundown:

Visitor Analysis and System Spec

Search Referral:    www.bing.com — legal schnauzer blog

Host Name:    99-71-178-13.lightspeed.brhmal.sbcglobal.net    Browser:    IE 9.0

IP Address:    99.71.178.13 — [Label IP Address]

Operating System:    WinVista

Location:    Birmingham, Alabama, United States

Resolution:    1024x768

Returning Visits:    0

Javascript:    Enabled

Visit Length:    Multiple visits spread over more than one day

ISP:    Sbc Internet Services

What does all of this mean? Well, I'm hardly an expert, but this seems to be the key information:

* The visitor uses SBC Internet Services;

* He made multiple visits spread over more than one day;

* His location, or at least that of the server he uses, is Birmingham, Alabama;

* Most importantly, his IP address is 99.71.178.13

I took this last piece of information and did a search at an IP-address tracking site on the Web. Here is what that search yielded:

General IP Information

IP:    99.71.178.13
Decimal:    1665643021
Hostname:    99-71-178-13.lightspeed.brhmal.sbcglobal.net
ISP:    SBC Internet Services
Organization:    SBC Internet Services
Services:    None detected
Type:    Broadband
Assignment:    Static IP

We learn that this is a static IP--probably a home user--with a decimal of 1665643021. (Not sure what this decimal number tells us, but it might mean something to a genuine technophile.)

Perhaps the most intriguing data, to me, comes under the heading of "geolocation," which is the art (or science) of matching an IP address to a physical location on the globe. Here is what we find:

Geolocation Information

Country:    United States
State/Region:    Alabama
City:    Birmingham
Latitude:    33.4168
Longitude:    -86.6801
Area Code:    205
Postal Code:    35242

Here comes the really fascinating (or creepy) part. If you key in my IP address, it produces a latitude and longitude that is identical to the one above. Does this mean my threat came from someone who lives nearby? It sure looks that way. How close might they be? I'm still trying to figure that out--but I'm guessing it is pretty darned close.

A little research on the Web turns up all sorts of caveats about the accuracy of geolocation software. The general consensus seems to be that a good service is about 80 percent accurate within a 25-mile radius.

Some layman's experimentation has me thinking the geolocation in our area is more accurate than that. I searched on an IP address that I know is about 15 miles from my house and on another that I know is about eight miles away. Both had different coordinates than those for my location.

Did my threat come from several neighborhoods over, from several streets over, from a few houses down the street, from right next door? I'm still working on that question, but I have a definite suspect or two in mind. Do I think these suspects are capable of violence? Yes, I do.

Has my "correspondent" committed a federal crime by using the Internet to send a threatening message? We will turn to that question next.

(To be continued)

Originally posted to RogerShuler on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 09:33 AM PDT.

Also republished by Pink Clubhouse.

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Comment Preferences

  •  How should you react? (6+ / 0-)

    Buy a short-barrel, 12-gauge pump shotgun. Load it with double-ought buckshot. Learn how to shoot it.

    It is a calling...to do things about injustice.... It helps to have a goal. I've always tried to have one.--Ted Kennedy, True Compass

    by Timaeus on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 09:41:55 AM PDT

    •  Violence is always the answer (0+ / 0-)

      /snark

      •  It's legitimate to be prepared to (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lordcopper

        protect one's family in self defense. I have a situation where a psychotic relative has started uttering credible death threats against me, and even my Catholic priest advised me to prepare to defend my family.

        Most anonymous blog threats are worth ignoring. But I agree that what the diarist has here sounds genuinely threatening.

        It is a calling...to do things about injustice.... It helps to have a goal. I've always tried to have one.--Ted Kennedy, True Compass

        by Timaeus on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 10:08:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Except a shotgun may not be the best prep (4+ / 0-)
          Guns kept in the home for selfprotection are 43 times more likely to kill someone you know than to kill in self-defense.
          Kellerman A., New England Journal of Medicine, 1986
          Guns kept in homes are 22 times more likely to be involved in unintentional shootings, criminal assaults, homicides and suicide attempts than to be involved in injuring or killing in self defense.
          Kellermann, et al. Injuries and deaths due to firearms in the home. Journal of Trauma, 1998; 45 (2):263-267.

          Just two very quick facts that I was able to pull up in a google search in under 2 mins.

          •  Those statistics are irrelevant where there (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lordcopper, G2geek

            is a specific, credible threat.

            That should be obvious.

            It is a calling...to do things about injustice.... It helps to have a goal. I've always tried to have one.--Ted Kennedy, True Compass

            by Timaeus on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 10:17:30 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  How do you figure? (4+ / 0-)

              Does having someone stalk you make you less likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting?  

              I would argue it may actually make you MORE likely.

              The fact that someone is being threatened, etc does not lessen the fact that simply having a firearm in your house opens you up to all of these other risks.

              •  If you're coming up with this kind of (0+ / 0-)

                argumentative nonsense, instead of pausing and backing down a little, there's no point in trying to explain it to you.

                Your understanding of statistics is so primitive that you really should restrain yourself from trying to argue from statistics.

                It is a calling...to do things about injustice.... It helps to have a goal. I've always tried to have one.--Ted Kennedy, True Compass

                by Timaeus on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 05:57:56 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Incidentally, please let me note with (0+ / 0-)

                some irony that I myself have a nice, bland Greek classical name (Timaeus was a friend of Socrates, and is the title of one of his best Dialogues), while your nick includes the aggressive adjective "Carnivorous."

                Just saying, he he.

                It is a calling...to do things about injustice.... It helps to have a goal. I've always tried to have one.--Ted Kennedy, True Compass

                by Timaeus on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 06:22:44 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  a credible death threat is legit grounds... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Timaeus

        ... to keep a firearm in the house and know how to use it properly.  

        This is not the place to argue gun control and frankly it's trollish to try to make that point in this context.

        •  Exactly right. (0+ / 0-)

          I'm afraid of guns and got pretty close to age 60 before I bought a shotgun, after facing a really terrifying danger that is still ongoing.

          The danger I am facing is probably 1000 times more serious than what the diarist is facing.  I've explained this elsewhere here and won't repeat it.

          Still, if the diarist really does believe it's a credible threat, as I think he does, he needs to be able to defend in a last-moment emergency.

          It is a calling...to do things about injustice.... It helps to have a goal. I've always tried to have one.--Ted Kennedy, True Compass

          by Timaeus on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 06:25:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I regularly write LTE's in my local paper.... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timaeus, lordcopper, G2geek

      Last Sunday night I received a call on my cell phone(not listed) asking if I wrote the last article.  I said yes, and asked who was calling, instead of an answer I received an obscene response calling me the name women hate more than most!

      The phone number was on my phone and I tracked it back to a local guy here in town(small town).  He must have thought he was being anonymous!

      I was a little shocked at the language, and it did set my teeth on edge for a few minutes, wondering what else the caller might have in mind.  I talked to the police, I advised the local paper and told my three sons about it.  I gave the name and address to my kids, my one son lives near him and drove by to see what the deal was.  The house is draped in red, white and blue bunting with a flag pole out front with a "Don't Tread on Me" snake.  

      Those who protest how much they love this country and the Constitution are sometimes the quickest to want to suppress other views!  I guess they don't get it.

      As one son mentioned,  we may not be well-balanced, but we are certainly well-armed!  Perhaps when one calls to make obscene comments, one should know who one is calling.

      •  I wrote a LTE a couple of years ago (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        importer, Timaeus

        and received a haranguing message on my answering machine, (anonymous of course). The caller did not use obscenity, but I have to say, he sounded violent and stupid.

        I thought to myself, I had the nerve to publish my views with my name in the paper, but you're such a wuss that you have to call and harass someone at home anonymously!  Plus, how stupid, everyone has some form of call tracking or a call could easily be tracked nowadays if some did venture into real threats.

        It bothered me a lot, because it was someone trying to be intimidating. I didn't at the time, but if it happened today, I would report it to the police, because I think it's outside the bounds of normal behavior.

        •  Yep. I'm in Carroll County, Maryland, a rural (0+ / 0-)

          super wingnut Republican county in a solid Democratic state.  

          In 2008 I wrote a LTE to the local paper supporting Obama's candidacy.  I got an INCREDIBLY vile anonymous KKK (literally) attack letter, with photocopies of pictures of Obama being lynched, etc., and death threats against me and all Democrats.

          It was very crude, like 3rd grade education, and VERY hateful and violent. Terrifying to behold.

          It proved that the asshole knew how to see my name in the paper and look up the address of my residence.

          I reported it immediately to the Secret Service in Baltimore. I never learned if they did anything.

          Some of my local Democratic Party friends have recently reported receiving very similar stuff.

          Just one single crazy, homicidal nut can ruin your day!

          P.S. But fuck 'em. If an asshole like that shows up on my property these days, I'm loaded for bear (double ought buckshot) and ready to fire. Lots of prayer and meditation has gone into steeling me to that determination.

          If I go down under an attack from lunatics or fascists, I'm going to go down fighting. This is my real belief these days, help me God.

          It is a calling...to do things about injustice.... It helps to have a goal. I've always tried to have one.--Ted Kennedy, True Compass

          by Timaeus on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 06:33:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Barbara . . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shaharazade, BlueJessamine

      I've ignored all the others I've gotten. This comment, in and of itself, was nothing special: "Yours is coming. Don't worry." But it was attached to a post about death, and the IP address points to someone (I think, I'm not certain; that's why I didn't name him) that I already was concerned about.

      I'm sure this a pretty common occurrence for folks who blog/post, etc. It's hard to know where the line falls between ignore and report. This is the first one I've felt genuine concern about, mainly because of the surrounding circumstances.

      •  call the police. also some other steps: (0+ / 0-)

        If necessary call the FBI.  

        It may be that all they can do at this stage is take a report, particularly because LE is strapped for resources and they may not be able to investigate the threat as such at this time.

        However the report will set the wheels in motion such that if the perp follows up with anything more, there's a trail to pick up.  

        Be sure to include all the results of your sleuthing to date.

        Also if you haven't got home and auto alarms, get them now.  And if you have a garage, keep the car inside it with the garage door locked.  Do Not count on automatic garage door openers, they can be hacked VERY easily.  Lock it physically.  Consider the option of motion-triggered video recording, ideally via broadband link to an alarm company's central station.  

        Floodlights outside your house, connected to motion sensors, are also good.  

        Give some thought to the question of firearms.

        Always keep a phone at your fingertips: landline at home (instant location when you call 911), cellphone with police emergency numbers pre-programmed for on the road.  

        Have a family meeting to discuss safety issues, be truthful with your kid(s) if any, and practice home and car safety drills early & often.   Practice until the routine parts become "muscle memory" that you don't have to think about.  This enables you to focus on actual critical decisions to make in the event something happens, rather than on the minutae of how to operate X or who to call for Y.  

    •  I'd say, 'alert the police, then ignore 'em.' n/t (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BlueJessamine, importer, lordcopper
    •  wrong. (0+ / 0-)

      Credible threats should be reported to the police, no exceptions.

  •  You Could Either Report it or Ignore It (7+ / 0-)

    I guess I'd probably report it.

    •  FBI -- call them now if you haven't already. (0+ / 0-)

      If you think the threat is close to you, you want to do this right away. Also...

      don't give away everything online until AFTER the case is solved!

      Between this and the one on your blog, you have clued your potential attacker in on way more than you should have. If you are concerned that you may suffer bodily harm from a wacko, time is of the essence, legal schnauzer. Call the FBI and stop posting about this until they advise you that it's OK to do so.

      Being threatened over the wires  is a good example a problem the FBI exists to take care of. They're open 24/7. Call them now.

  •  What is the significance (0+ / 0-)

    of the office park at 1200 Corporate Drive? Is that where your ISP is located?

  •  I think it's always good to report things (0+ / 0-)

    At worst it simply gives you a documented record of what has happened in case the person takes things even further.

    Depending on how your home is set up, it might be a good idea to get a motion sensitive security light.  We had a lovely individual (over the course of a week or so) drive by our house and pellet gun the windows out.  As soon as the security light went up he scurried away like the cockroach he was.

  •  If they're in your city... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timaeus, eztempo

    I'd say report it to your local police department.

    I've also had some luck contacting service providers as well, particularly because the threatener is not always the holder of the account. A lot of small businesses have static IPs, for example, or they might be staying with their parents.

    •  Without a subpoena (0+ / 0-)

      your ISP isn't going to do ANYTHING.

      At least that was my experience. I had actual physical death threats that violated the TOS of the ISP. They told me that they won't do anything until ordered by a court.

  •  guessing neither of you live (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timaeus

    in this lake?

    1/10000 degree will get you something like 12 meter resolution, but I'm guessing no one told SBC about significant figures :)

  •  Contact your local DA (4+ / 0-)

    and file a report with all the info you have.

    Let the law sort it out. I've gotten some pretty dirty hatemails before, but nothing that I felt was on "death threat" levels, but if I got one, my best friend is NYPD. If I didn't have a friend who could advise me, I'd go to the police or the local DA

  •  I have two point to make about this important (3+ / 0-)

    issue: First, you raising this issue is extremely important.  I've giving this specific issue a lot of thought, and I do have some suggestions.  Second, my take is that you probably should have not included the "suspect's" IP address here.  I know it looks like strong circumstantial evidence, but there are many factors to be considered...

    Including the possibility that you got the wrong IP address (even if that is unlikely), or the possibility that the subscriber of Internet service at that location has no idea what another member of the family, or a friend, a guest, etc., may have done.

    No getting back to the core issue, as I mentioned, I've given this a lot of though.  Also, with everything that is happening, I see the danger of liberals and progressives being the eventual targets for harassment, threats, and actual acts of violence as a real possibility, given the increased levels of incitement by Right-wing leaders, religious nut-jobs, and Right-wing hate radio.

    That, along with the mainstream media looking the other way (because they are tools of the moneyed elite), will create the conditions for these things to happen.

    One idea I have is to form support groups around the country.  So for example, as a community, progressives need to understand that as the rising push of fascist continues, principled leaders withing our movement who speak truth to power, are eloquent, and make an impact, can become eventual targets for harassment.

    We need to acknowledge that possibility, and we need to appreciate what they are doing, and try to support them in any way we can, including security.

    Couldn't we form regional networks so when someone is threaten they can immediately report it to the local "group" and then collectively, the group can take certain steps, like documenting the incident, doing research trying to find out the origin of the threat, and collecting all the necessary evidence, and then present that to the authorities.

    If the threat escalates, there could be members of the local group who are lawyers, or law enforcement officials, and they could provide advice on seeking civil redress in the courts.

    Or some techie may suggest ways of installing a home surveillance system so when the nutjob comes by in the middle of the night and sprays something on your garage door, they are caught on camera.

    Or even have some volunteers (ex-military, etc.) stop by the house of the targeted activist once in a while, or even be available to be called in case something happen.

    You won't believe what just a little support could do to let people know they are not alone.  And it would not require that much effort.

    Actually, I'm going to write a diary about this...

    I hope this is helpful.

  •  Different coordinates for different IPs (0+ / 0-)

    Were the ones that yielded different coordinates the same provider as yours? It would seem to me the coordinate would tie to the approximate location of the ISP, not the individual user.

    •  Catte Nappe (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shaharazade

      No, they were different providers. In fact, they were institutional in nature--one a university and one an insurance company, while I am a home user.

      You might be right about where the coordinates tie to; I'm definitely not an expert on this.

      That's one reason I wrote the post. I was interested in what others have to say about the available technology and related issues. Hope this thread might be educational for a lot of folks.

  •  Don't Post Identifying Material, Take It Out Here. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaharazade, dhonig

    Take it to legal authorities definitely.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 10:35:13 AM PDT

  •  I would definitely document it (0+ / 0-)

    And take it to the local law agency which might have some cyber crimes expertise.  Get it on record!  

    It was the combination of local sheriff, a friend in the business (so to speak), and security where I worked, to out the identity of someone stalking me, because of the effects of a proposal made by my employer.  

    This person is definitely loony- tunes, having been in & out of psychiatric hospitals for 40+ yrs.  But as we have seen lately, it's the lone psychotic who is often causing mayhem.  I felt so much better once the ID had been made, and I had received advice on how to deal with them if (s)he confronted me.  Also some other stuff which had been happening, started coming together - pieces of the puzzle, so to speak.

    I never used to think much about celebrities who were stalked, but after this I understand their concern.  We are always on alert here.  

    Also, if you don't already have caller-ID, get that.  

    Wishing you safety - and don't stop blogging!  

  •  Hit the delete key on this diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dhonig

    You're giving out way too much info about yourself, not to mention being totally uncool re the ip stuff.

    Here's my answer, for what it's worth: if you feel unsafe by having a blog, don't blog from your own site. This site is perfectly fine and relatively safe.

  •  Thanks for the tutorial (0+ / 0-)

    Hope I never need it, but there is some great information in this post.

    •  i personally have had a great (0+ / 0-)

      many hate mail type things which did include threats of violence on me or my family.   I still have some of them.
      There is no cyberpolice and local police do not even take this serious.(though they should) well my local police didn'tyears ago.  In fact their advice was if you don't want hate mail don't be out there.  I foundthat advice just ridiculous and cowardly.   I have long since learned if you are getting hate mail..You gotta be doing something right to rile people up to that point.  That may not help your feelings but we have some real crazies who like lockstep to their way of thinking.  Kudos to you. You must be stepping on toes.

      We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

      by Vetwife on Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 02:28:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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