Judge Orders Identities of Commenters Be Revealed (Again)

A lot has happened with anonymous commenters and forced legal disclosure in recent months; today there’s a new development. In April a judge sued the Cleveland newspaper for revealing her as a (formerly) anonymous commenter? Revealing identity is one thing, though the judge had been playing dirty pool threatening to jail one of the paper’s reporters for not giving up a source, while the judge had been leaving snide comments about the case on case-related articles. In July there was the North Carolina judge who ordered a blog to disclose the identity of its anon commenters: this was a case of suing anonymous commenters for libel. In late July, a NC Superior Court ruled that commenters have First Amendment protection a law journalistic shield laws in a particularly gruesome murder case where information came from an anon comment.

Today in a case involving the ACLU, at least one Pittsburgh man won access to IP info on anon commenters who made death threats against him. The role Comcast plays in this is worth reading about. Here’s a snip:

(…) That action follows an announcement Tuesday night by West Mifflin Area school director Albert Graham, who vowed to take legal action to obtain the names of individuals who he said had posted threats against his life on the West Mifflin page of the discussion board Topix.com.

Web service providers have protection from comments made by third-party posters under a federal 1996 telecommunications law. But some courts require them to release the names of posters’ identities if a strong enough case is made for defamation.

The ACLU’s actions in the Forward case followed a July 22 ruling by Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. that information about the individuals who made the postings about Mr. DeRosa be turned over. The ACLU will not file an appeal in the case, said Sara Rose, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

(…) While the IP addresses that were supplied to Mr. DeRosa don’t immediately identify the individuals, they do identify their Internet service providers and now Mr. DeRosa and his attorneys can petition those providers to release the names.

(…) Dr. Graham became a public target on the Topix website after his name surfaced in late April in an investigative report by the firm Gentile-Meinert, which outlined work alleged to have been done at his home by district maintenance workers during their regular work hours.

Dr. Graham said on Tuesday night that he is afraid to leave his home and he fears for the safety of his wife and three children.

However, West Mifflin police Chief Ken Davies said he did not believe the postings regarding Dr. Graham — one of which suggested a plastic bag be tied over his head and another that suggested he be thrown into his pool with a rock attached to his foot — posed imminent danger to Dr. Graham or his family.

“If they were more direct we would have taken action, Chief Davies said. (…read more, post-gazette.com)

This is especially interesting for me to watch develop, particularly as a writer who has had commenters (on SFGate.com) repeatedly make death threats against me in the comments — and much, much more, under the perception of anonymity. (I also went to the police.)

Possibly related posts: