Blogger in Dispute over Anonymous Free Speech
What many people don’t understand is that the law is designed to protect, and sometimes that means you can’t always get your injustice or offense righted by seeking recourse from the law.
In a tragic instance of this sometimes harsh fact, take the ethically questionable tactics taken by adjusters for Progressive Insurance in Atlanta, in which private investigators joined a church and secretly taped confidential group counseling sessions in order to dredge up evidence for an auto accident claim.
It’s ethically and morally offensive, sure, but because of the laws in place in the state of Georgia governing taping of conversations, it may not be against the law.
A new legal case being disputed in the small town of Manalapan, New Jersey, however, is a perfect example of what happens when you think you can use the law for your own ends.
In this case, it’s the town of Manalapan-or more specifically, local government officials-wanting to save face from a pesky local critic.
DaTruthSquad Steps In
A blogger known as “daTruthSquad” criticized a controversial lawsuit filed by the township over a land deal that went wrong.
An attorney working for the town, a certain Stuart Moskovitz, allegedly misrepresented information that led to the purchase of polluted land.
Officials in Manalapan has filed a subpoena for Google to disclose the true identity of “daTruthSquad,” as well as communications, and “all other information associated with the account.”
The reasoning they give for their right to discovery of this identity and other information is that the lawyer himself, Moskovitz, is the actual writer of the blog in question.
However, Moskovitz has stated under penalty of perjury that he is in fact not “daTruthSquad”.
Despite this, the township continues to claim legitimacy for its discovery attempts, and refuses to withdraw the subpoena to Google for the blogger’s identity.
Electronic Frontier Foundation Backs Up Blogger
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a consumer advocate group who has stood behind individuals engaged in anonymity cases on the Internet, as well as other Internet legal issues, has stepped up to formally request that the judge on the case dismiss the unlawful subpoena.
Lawyers for the EFF filed a motion to quash the discovery subpoena, on the grounds that the blogger has a constitutional right to free speech, which isn’t given up if he chooses to exercise it anonymously.
There are many legal precedents for anonymous free speech that extend beyond print media, though anonymous free speech on the Internet is still a relatively untested issue.
EFF staff lawyer Matt Zimmerman said regarding the case, “Bloggers, as well as everyone else, have a First Amendment right to speak anonymously. Litigants don’t get a blank check to pry into the private lives of critics when they say things the litigants don’t like. The fact that it is the government trying to abuse the discovery process makes this attempted invasion of privacy all the more repugnant.”
One recent case that would support the battle to protect anonymous blogger speech is the case of “Orthomom” – a blogger who made critical comments against a county school board trustee who was the incumbent in a county election.
In that case, the New York Supreme Court found that “[t]he relief sought by [the plaintiff], on the eve of a school board election, would have a chilling effect on protected political speech.”
The EFF lawyer’s statements ring true when it comes to determining the difference between a legally legitimate complaint and an illegitimate attempt to take away someone else’s legal rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.