Texas Judge Forces Topix To Unveil Info About Anonymous Commenters
from the so-much-for-protecting-anonymity dept
Unfortunately, it looks like a judge in Texas has ignored all of that. Topix, the online news aggregation and local community site, has apparently been told by a judge to cough up identifying information on 178 formerly anonymous commenters on the site. The details are still a little unclear from the article linked here -- but it looks like the commenters were discussing a sexual harassment case that was happening in Texas. In that case, the defendants were found not guilty, but apparently the online comments on Topix got somewhat nasty. So the couple, fresh off being acquitted of sexual assault charges, sued 178 different anonymous commenters -- and the judge seemed to have no problem ordering Topix to turn over any identifying information it had on those commenters.
This is troubling for a variety of reasons, as it does not appear that the court spent much time in determining whether or not actual libelous statements were made -- it just ordered Topix to hand over the info. Previous courts have found that even if the commenters were being jerks and totally obnoxious, that doesn't take away their right to anonymity. So why is this judge so willing to wipe away anonymity? If there are truly libelous comments, then it could make sense to go through a careful process of trying to identify who they came from. But to give a blanket order to hand over the names seems to go against what so many other US courts have done in similar situations, and raises serious questions about the right to anonymity online.