Feeds

Web anonymity under siege

John Doe unmasked

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A Florida appeals court ruled Friday that ISPs can be compelled by subpoena to identify people who post defamatory messages on Internet bulletin boards, even when the libellous nature of the statements has yet to be proved.

In this case, Hvide Marine company former CEO Erik Hvide was seeking the identities of eight people who criticised both him and his company on a BBS. The subpoena had been temporarily blocked pending appeal, and the appellate court chose to let it proceed.

In representing the defendants, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had asked the court to rule on whether Hvide had actually been libelled before identifying the defendants. The ACLU argued that if there had been no libel, then the critics had a right to remain anonymous.

Typically in cases like this, a company finds itself bashed by what it suspects are disgruntled employees, and files a so-called "John Doe" suit against the unknown critic. But once the suit is filed, the plaintiff can use the evidence discovery process to learn the identity of the smartmouth.

Indeed, a company may not bother to pursue an expensive, time-consuming libel suit at all. Once it learns who's been dishing the dirt, assuming the person is an employee, the company can retaliate easily, and cheaply, enough.

"If someone charges libel, then the anonymity of a poster should be preserved until the libel is proved. Otherwise, the subpoena power can be used to silence anonymous, critical speech," Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) board-member Lawrence Lessig told the New York Times in comments regarding a similar case in Ohio which has yet to be decided.

The potential for companies to use the courts merely to unmask a critic they have no real intention of suing is painfully obvious. One wonders what the Florida court can possibly have been thinking. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Musicians sue UK.gov over 'zero pay' copyright fix
Everyone else in Europe compensates us - why can't you?
Megaupload overlord Kim Dotcom: The US HAS RADICALISED ME!
Now my lawyers have bailed 'cos I'm 'OFFICIALLY' BROKE
MI6 oversight report on Lee Rigby murder: US web giants offer 'safe haven for TERRORISM'
PM urged to 'prioritise issue' after Facebook hindsight find
BT said to have pulled patent-infringing boxes from DSL network
Take your license demand and stick it in your ASSIA
Right to be forgotten should apply to Google.com too: EU
And hey - no need to tell the website you've de-listed. That'll make it easier ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Go beyond APM with real-time IT operations analytics
How IT operations teams can harness the wealth of wire data already flowing through their environment for real-time operational intelligence.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.