Judge orders Web site to unmask anonymous posters in libel case
Topix: We take privacy seriously
Topix CEO Chris Tolles said that his company had received the subpoena and was currently figuring out what exactly it needed to do. "We are not there yet, since it was a large request with lots of detail," Tolles said in an e-mail. "We prefer to make sure requests are clear and specific and not overly broad."
Tolles said that Topix takes privacy issues very seriously and that his firm would not "simply hand over all of our records" without a review of the demand by its lawyers and a discussion of the issue with the court.
At the same time, though, Tolles said libel was a legitimate concern, and that Topix will cooperate with the courts when a valid request for information was made. Topix is reviewing the subpoena to make sure the request is "above a reasonable threshold," he said.
Reminder: Anonymity is not immunity
The lawsuit serves as reminder that online anonymity does not automatically provide immunity against libel charges, said Eugene Volokh, professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles' School of Law.
While the First Amendment provides protections for free speech, "not all categories of speech are protected, libel for instance," Volokh said.
"While people have the right to say things anonymously, if someone sues them of libel, then a court may order others to turn over information about them," Volokh said. "The First Amendment does not prevent the use of judicial processes to uncover the identities of speakers" in cases where libel is suspected.
It is not the first time a court has ordered a Web site or service provider to hand over identifying information on anonymous posters.
The most high-profile example involves two female Yale Law School students who were the targets of a similar flood of highly personal anonymous attacks posted on the AutoAdmit college bulletin board in 2005.
In January 2008, the students got a Connecticut district court judge to issue a subpoena asking the operator of AutoAdmit to hand over any information it had to help reveal the true identities of 39 posters who used pseudonyms on the board.
The subpoena resulted in the lawyers for the two students unmasking the identities of several of the anonymous users behind the postings.
In a blog post related to the case, Volokh noted that while some of the comments against the two students may well have been libelous, some of the statements could also be interpreted as threats of rape and other physical harm against the two.
In similar cases, such comments, whether anonymous or not, "may be constitutionally unprotected, and there would be no bar to tort liability for them," Volokh noted in the blog post.
Read more about Internet in Computerworld's Internet Topic Center.
This pilot fish is a contractor at a military base, working on some very cool fire-control systems for tanks. But when he spots something obviously wrong during a live-fire test, he can't get the firing-range commander's attention.
- IT Certification Study Tips
- Register for this Computerworld Insider Study Tip guide and gain access to hundreds of premium content articles, cheat sheets, product reviews and more.
- Reduce federal infrastructure risk with compliance management and situational awareness
- IBM continuous monitoring and management solutions deliver real-time situational awareness to help federal agencies understand vulnerabilities, and protect the infrastructure.
- Mission Critical: Managing Mobile Applications & Content
- Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices have become embedded in enterprise processes, thanks to the consumerization of IT and a new generation of...
- Securing Mobility, From Device to Network
- At one time, the process of managing and securing mobile devices and applications was fairly straightforward. Most organizations worried about one application (email)...
- Planning for Mobile Success
- Many organizations are seeing clear and quantifiable benefits from the deployment of mobile technologies that provide access to data and applications any time,...
- The Challenges and Opportunities of Mobile Application Development
- Nearly all business users now demand mobile devices--their own or company-owned--along with anywhere access to corporate applications and data. What turns mobile devices... All Government IT White Papers
- Keep Servers Up and Running and Attackers in the Dark An SSL/TLS handshake requires at least 10 times more processing power on a server than on the client. SSL renegotiation attacks can readily...
- On Demand: Mastering the Art of Mobile Content Management Mobile device usage in the enterprise has skyrocketed, and it continues to escalate. IT must answer to users who demand access to their...
- DevOps with PureApplication System: Reduce cost and speed delivery with an integrated IBM Cloud solution Join this webcast to hear what ING Netherlands has been able to achieve while deploying DevOps tools from IBM Rational. An ING executive...
- NSS Labs & Cisco Present: Evaluating Leading Breach Detection Systems Today's constantly evolving advanced malware and APTs can evade point-in-time defenses to penetrate networks. Security professionals must evolve their strategy in lockstep to...
- Will the Real Endpoint Threat Detection and Response Please Stand Up? This webinar explores new technologies & process for protecting endpoints from advanced attackers as well as the innovations that are pushing the envelope...
- All Government IT Webcasts