Feeds

Web anonymity under siege

John Doe unmasked

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Zippy one-liners, broken promises: Doctor Who on the Orient Express
Series finally hits stride, but Clara's U-turn is baffling
Don't bother telling people if you lose their data, say Euro bods
You read that right – with the proviso that it's encrypted
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
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?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.