The ACLU of Virginia reports that the FBI promised today not to take any action against Pro Hosters, a Virginia-based Web site service provider, when it posts a video showing the slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
According to Pro Hosters' owner Theodore Hickman, FBI agent Jay Kanetkar contacted him last Thursday to say that the Pearl video, which at the time was appearing on one of the company's 30,000 Web sites, violated obscenity law and should be removed.
Contacted today by the ACLU of Virginia, Agent Kanetkar told a lawyer with the civil liberties group that he would write a letter clarifying the FBI's decision not to make any additional efforts to have the video suppressed.
"We are pleased that the FBI has decided not to take further action," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. "This video is surely gruesome, and I am certain that Mr. Pearl's family is horrified and deeply saddened that it is appearing on the Internet, but we believe it is protected by the First Amendment."
"The FBI had no business attempting to scare Mr. Hickman into taking down the video and no basis whatsoever for saying the video violated obscenity law," added Willis. "Obscenity only applies to depictions that are sexual in nature."
According to news reports, the FBI claims that the call to Hickman was not to demand that the video be removed, but a request on behalf of the Pearl family.
The video appeared on a Web site provided by Pro Hosters, but owned by Dany Klinker of The Netherlands. Mr. Klinker removed the video once he became aware of the FBI's involvement. Now, Pro Hosters plans to post the video itself.
The public release of a gruesome video is not new. The Zapruder film of President Kennedy's assassination has been shown all over the world.
Nor is it the first time the FBI has tried to interfere with Internet postings. In 1999, the FBI pressured an Internet service provider to remove a spoof video purporting to be a Y2K military briefing. The ACLU challenged the practice as unconstitutional and that case is still pending.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022