Feeds

Web anonymity under siege

John Doe unmasked

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Hey, Scots. Microsoft's Bing thinks you'll vote NO to independence
World's top Google-finding website calls it for the UK
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
OECD lashes out at tax avoiding globocorps' location-flipping antics
You hear that, Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.