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Search warrant against Florida journalist to be made public

Prosecutors say they do not oppose a legal request from a newspaper to disclose the warrant against Timothy Burke; the FBI recently gave Burke limited access to his seized phone, so he could return to Twitter.

Prosecutors say they do not oppose a legal request from a newspaper to disclose the warrant against Timothy Burke; the FBI recently gave Burke limited access to his seized phone, so he could return to Twitter.

Former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke (inset picture) from an undated social media image. (Graphic by The Desk)
Former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke (inset picture) from an undated social media image. (Graphic by The Desk)

Federal prosecutors have agreed to release a redacted copy of a warrant that was connected to the search of a Florida journalist’s home in early May, The Desk has learned.

The agreement comes after officials with the Tampa Bay Times newspaper filed a request in federal court to compel the disclosure of the warrant connected to the raid at the residence of former Deadspin video editor Timothy Burke.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Burke participated in a cyber intrusion on computer systems used by Fox News Media, through which he and others obtained behind-the-scenes videos that were published by Media Matters for America and Vice News.

The videos included off-air footage of former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, who was dismissed from the network in mid-April. Prosecutors sent Fox News Media a letter in May asking them to preserve evidence related to an apparent criminal hacking scheme, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Desk.

The letter does not name Burke as a target of the investigation, but a source familiar with the matter confirmed the raid on the journalist’s home and the investigation into the apparent hacking of computer systems at Fox News are related.

In court documents reviewed by The Desk, prosecutors appear to be focused on a period of time prior to August 2022, during which Burke and unnamed accomplices apparently conspired to obtain and distribute the videos.

In a motion filed in federal court last week, attorneys representing Burke assert he did not participate in a criminal hacking scheme, and that the videos were “publicly accessible, internet addressable, and available to anyone who could find their location and the appropriate URL.” Access to the videos did not require bypassing any authentication measures, the attorneys claimed.

In mid-May, prosecutors agreed to return some of the data that is on Burke’s seized devices, according to a government court filing. The data involves Burke’s online activity after August 2022, suggesting the government’s investigation concerns alleged conspiracies before that time.

The government has also agreed to release a redacted copy of the search warrant and related filings after the Times made a legal request for the records. But the government is asking a federal judge to keep an FBI affidavit in support of the motion under seal, arguing that the public disclosure of that record could jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation.

Last week, Burke’s lawyers filed their own motion in the matter, supporting the Times’ request to make the warrant public and asking a federal judge overseeing the matter to order the return of Burke’s computers and phones. In the motion, Burke’s lawyers argued that the journalist was unable to news-gather or post to his social media accounts since the FBI took his devices.

Burke published regularly on Twitter and Instagram prior to the raid, only for his online activity there to grind to a halt after the FBI took his computers. Immediately after the raid, Burke launched a profile on Blueskk, a Twitter alternative, where his short-form musings reached more than 2,600 followers.

In one Bluesky post, Burke wrote that he was recording a hockey game from a Canadian television feed using a Raspberry Pi, a basic low-cost computer, “because that’s what we’ve got.” In another post, Burke revealed that he was watching the series finale of the HBO program “Succession” on a MacBook laptop that was released in 2006.

Burke alluded to his social media lockout in other online posts, noting that he ultimately settled on Bluesky because it was the “only service without 2FA,” using the initialism for “two-factor authentication.”

The days of his lockout came to an end on Monday, after Burke visited an FBI field office and was given limited access to his cell phone, so he could retrieve two-factor authentication codes for his Twitter account.

Editor’s note: This article was updated Tuesday evening to note that Burke regained access to his Twitter account earlier in the week. Additionally, an opening paragraph in an earlier version of this story erroneously said the government agreed to release a redacted warrant at the request of Burke and his lawyers; the agreement came after a newspaper requested access to the documents.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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