by Mike Masnick
Tue, Oct 13th 2009 6:30pm
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.
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