One Way To Reveal Anonymous Posters: Subpoena The Sites They Read

from the rights-to-privacy? dept

We’ve written many times in the past about how courts have protected anonymous speech in the US, but that doesn’t mean that some won’t go to ridiculous lengths to reveal anonymous commenters they don’t like. Last summer, we wrote about the ridiculous lawsuit over some anonymous “mean” postings on a forum for law school students. The case involved students claiming that they were unable to get jobs due to mean comments on the boards. It seems like quite a stretch to think law firms would judge their hiring decisions on such a thing, but the law students in question apparently needed someone to blame for their inability to get jobs.

Of course, revealing who those anonymous posters are isn’t easy, thanks to that previously mentioned respect for the right to be anonymous. So, it appears that lawyers for the plaintiffs are taking a rather indirect route to reveal the anonymous posters. Since the posters had linked to web pages that mention the plaintiffs, the lawyers are now seeking a subpoena on the log files of the sites that had those articles. Yes, this is a huge stretch, as they’re basically searching for a needle in a haystack, trying to pick out of the logfiles exactly who visited a particular news story. Even though some of the companies in question have pointed out that it’s impossible to provide this data, the lawyers are still seeking a subpoena from the court demanding it. If the law students in question put half the effort they’re putting into this lawsuit into finding a job, rather than worrying about what people said about them, perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue at all.

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Comments on “One Way To Reveal Anonymous Posters: Subpoena The Sites They Read”

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PaulT (profile) says:


Talk about over-reaching… This is like demanding security footage from a bookstore covering a week because you think that somebody had leafed through a copy of a particular best-selling book. Not only is it a grossly broad demand, but imagine the amount of work to investigate each individual highlighted, and the level of privacy that needs to be violated in order to do so – even if it is possible to supply the requested footage.

clueless says:

anonymous poster so no account at said site.

so best the lawyer could find is the IP of such poster then what Subpoena the ISP for the names and address of all its clients who were on line at that time? (granted he could have broadband and a static IP) but he also could have been in an Internet cafe, or just have dial up or his ISP could be using proxy….

Anonymous Coward says:

It would be a pretty good guess that the anonymous poster had just visited the page linked before posting (to check that it was still up and what the poster wanted to direct people too).

If there weren’t any other people checking the site within 5 minutes or so my money would be on it being the person who checked within 5 minutes of the anonymous posting. Of course it would be just that, a bet – nothing that would ever hold up in court for a myriad of reasons.

Unless the page linked was a user submitted piece of work and the anonymous posting claimed it to be his or her works. Even then thats gotta be too much of a stretch.

Peter says:


Looking at this move by these law students from another perspective, it might be more of a stunt to get some attention rather than a legitimate attempt to successfully sue the posters. I would guess that with all the press that this case is getting their previously cast aside resumes are getting a little more scrutiny these days!!

Its sort of the Streisand effect often brought up here, but used to their advantage…

PixelMage says:

As a hiring manager...

Seeing a move like this wouldn’t give me any confidence in the abilities of the individuals pursuing it.

First they appear to be throwing a temper tantrum because they couldn’t walk out of Law School and become Partners in some large law firm, with a corner office.

Second they are pursuing an avenue that impinges on personal freedoms, and really doesn’t have much of a chance of being successful due to the circumstantial nature of any evidence they might find.

The best way to kill bad PR is to own it, if they say you did something wrong. Either own up to it and describe it as a learning experience, or justify why it was the right Decision/Action. Don’t blame it on someone being mean to you.

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