Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
anonymity, blogging, memphis

Once Again, Public Official Thinks Its Illegal To Be An Anonymous Critic

from the the-right-to-anonymity dept

US Courts (unlike some other courts) have been quite good at recognizing that anonymity is part of free speech. Ruling after ruling after ruling by courts, specifically in dealing with things like anonymous blogging or forum posting have found that it's perfectly legal to be anonymous. That doesn't mean that you can defame others, but just being anonymous is not illegal, and an upset individual can't sue just to find out who the anonymous critics are.

Apparently, the Police Director in Memphis is unaware of such first amendment rights. Slashdot points us to the news that Memphis Police Director, Larry Godwin, is suing AOL to find out the name of a blogger who has been critical of Godwin. Of course, being critical also isn't illegal. But sometimes that's hard to understand when you're the target of the criticism. Hopefully a court explains the law to Godwin in short order.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Allen, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 3:51am

    Is this really suprising?

    I don't think that we're ever going to see an end to this. Someone thinks they've been wronged and they want redress. they don't know who to attack so they go for the next best thing.
    It's an emotional response and it doesn't matter that logically it shouldn't work. Logic falls by the way-side when emotions rule the day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Doug, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 4:34am

    Godwin's Law?

    I guess Godwin's Law doesn't apply here?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 4:50am

    Goodwin's Law always applies :D I predict 2 more posts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    JB, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 5:00am


    First of 2, he sounds like and backwards ass country fuck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Revolutionary1, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 5:05am

    It's police, what do you expect. They are almost to a person the most corrupt and evil force on the planet. Anyone enforcing any consensual crime has already shown their true colors. Using the law as a blunt object to further their own personal desires is what being a police officer is all about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 6:03am


    On the surface this looks just like that PC Professor case but its not. The blogger is making some serious accusations, such as COVERING UP MURDERS and other routine breaches of conduct.

    You have the right in this country to defend yourself, to face your accusers. I think Godwin deserves this chance, but I also think someone other than him should be investigating those accusations and getting the blogger's identity.

    This isn't as cut and dry as it appears to be when you just glance at it. I suggest you all actually RTFA in detail before pointing fingers. It makes you look like hypocrites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous of course :), Jul 25th, 2008 @ 6:06am

    In reference to the above two comments: I agree with the first post. The police officer is responding in an illogical manner probably due to his emotional state. We often do things we would never do when we fail to regard the effect that our emotions have.

    To call the officer a backwards ass country f**k is once again responding emotionally. To say that police are almost the most corrupt force on the planet is a generalization as well. I agree that the law is sometimes used as a logical means to further an illogical emotional response. Measures are in place in most cases to guard against this.

    Even the above two posts show that we are an creature ruled by emotions and logic but unable to keep both in check.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 6:16am

    Criticism is one thing, accusation is another

    It's one thing to criticize a public official for failing to do their job properly. It's quite a different thing to actively accuse them of committing a crime and to hint that there's more evidence.

    The blogger is clearing hinting that he knows much more about the situations mentioned in the blog. If there are ongoing investigations, talking about them from inside the department is a crime.

    This is not a clear-cut case of First Amendment rights. Just because the sheep at /. are baying at something doesn't make it a wolf.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    wardhog, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 7:10am

    Typical officiating southern redneck mentality. The cops here have the same train of thought too. I love watching dumb ass big boys go down with their "Ship of Fools" off the Mississippi states.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    PRMan, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 8:11am

    Who does this guy think he is?


    (There you go, Godwin fans.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    joe, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 8:16am

    what are FA limits?

    I'm as much of a First Amendment absolutist as anyone. But it is not helpful, in discussing cases like these, to misunderstand what the First Amendment is about, and what its limits are. It helps you understand the FA if you recognize that the FA is intended to protect us against laws to silence people (prior restraint) and actions of the government (punishment after the fact.)

    The FA is silent on the right of one person to take legal action against someone who knowingly and maliciously assaults with a lie. That's called libel when put in writing. The FA does not protect a libeler. I know all about how libel works because in a former life I sued a famous clothing designer who had lied about my own work in front of my peers of independent Sale Representatives, to avoid paying me commissions he owed me. It cost him big time.

    The language of the FA has been studied under repeated challenges before the the Supreme Court, especially in the last 50 to 70 years. The results clarify what is, and is not, protected speech.

    The most famous (and often misquoted opinion, confirming a conviction) says, you cannot cry fire in a crowded theater IF YOU KNOW THERE IS NO FIRE. (caps to emphasize the part often ommmited.) The issues there are truth and intent.

    As long as the person in this story can establish that there have been lies published with malicious intent, there are tons of Supreme Court rulings to establish that this sheriff, red neck or not, has a right to protect his name, expose the libeler and put some financial hurt on him. Yes, there are some tricky side issues. The Courts repeatedly say that Famous people can't be libeled because they have access to media that can promote the truth. That may or may not apply to the Sheriff. But even then, his claim for damages may be severely limited because of his public visibility and media access but he still can get a favorable judgement if he can prove those two key issues.

    Like it or, hate him or not, he too has his rights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    bobbknight, Jul 25th, 2008 @ 8:59am

    Better than Deep Throat

    Look for the name Dirk Diggler on the MPD Enforcer 2.0 blog.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    ANONYMOUS, Feb 19th, 2012 @ 5:54pm



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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