Another Court Tells Newspaper, Comcast To Reveal Identity Of Anonymous Commenters

from the anonymity-anyone? dept

In the US, we’ve seen plenty of lawsuits from politicians upset about anonymous comments on websites — and most court rulings seem to recognize that commenters do have a right to anonymous free speech — up to a certain point. The bar is usually where the speech becomes defamatory — but even then the bar should be quite high, given the nature of online chatter and the (lack of) seriousness with which most people take it. Unfortunately, not all judges are so enlightened. JJ points us to the news that a court has sided with a town trustee in Buffalo Grove, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) ordering the Daily Herald and then Comcast to turn over info on the identity of an anonymous commenter. The details aren’t entirely clear — as the comments have since been deleted. But apparently the story involves that trustee, Lisa Stone, and her son, who got involved in the comment discussion. According to a separate report, The Daily Herald turned over the commenter’s email address upon the court order, only to find out that the email address had been “deactivated”. So, from there, Stone went back to court, demanding that Comcast hand over info on the commenter, which has now happened. Again, depending on the nature of the actual comments perhaps this isn’t so crazy, but with the details given so far, this seems to be setting a dangerous precedent whereby politicians get to unveil anonymous critics, taking away their right to speak anonymously. That could create a serious chilling effect on free speech.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Another Court Tells Newspaper, Comcast To Reveal Identity Of Anonymous Commenters”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Beta says:

When are people who want anonymity going to learn not to give traceable addresses? When will newspapers who offer anonymity stop demanding or accepting traceable addresses? When will society start looking at the needless retention of sensitive information as unethical?

“The arguments of lawyers and engineers pass through one another like angry ghosts.” — Bohm, Gladman, Brown

Paul Alan Levy (user link) says:

A mere order of disclosure is not disturbing by itself; there are, as you note, some comments that are truly actionable and, if shown to be false, can be the basis of a real defamation suit and thus properly the subject of an order to disclose the Doe’s identity. However, the fact that, according to the Daily Herald article, “The exact comments were not part of the court record,” suggests that the national consensus standard has not been followed because ALL of the courts require that the precise allegedly defamatory words be set forth.

Rich Kulawiec says:

Courts fail to grasp that none of it matters anyway

Neither an email address nor an IP address is definitively identifying information.

Consider: we routinely see acknowledged mass compromises of mail servers, especially freemail providers — as we did just last week. These are but a a small sample of the much larger set of unacknowledged compromises that are far too numerous to bother listing. So there is no technical reason to believe that mail from actually came from Fred.

Consider: we also know that there are at least (and this is now a 4-year-old estimate) a hundred million fully-compromised system out there. This not only means that any IP traffic from them cannot be linked to their putative owners, it also means that any email credentials stored or used on them are now available to the hijackers.

The bottom line is that the environment we currently operate does not allow the linkage from email address or IP address to a human to be made reliably unless there are special circumstances/additional evidence which can independently corroborate this.

Footnote: please note that ill-considered snake oil such as SPF and DKIM, both of which are utterly worthless technologies used only by those who don’t have the intelligence to know any better, do not in any way, shape, or form solve or even mitigate either of these problems.

Mancru says:

Re: The right to speak anonymously

Just wanted to mention that the right to face our accusers is a right given those defending accusations in a criminal case. What I mean is in criminal proceedings you have “Accuser” vs. “Defendent”, and the defendent, the one on trial has the right to face his accuser. Since in this case, the poster isn’t starting criminal proceedings against Lisa Stone, this right doesn’t pertain to this situation.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...