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Hospital Wants Critical Blogger's Anonymity Ended 181

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the privacy-not-always-right dept.
rs232 sent in a link to this story about one's right to privacy, which opens: "An unlikely Internet frontier is Paris, Texas, population 26,490, where a defamation lawsuit filed by the local hospital against a critical anonymous blogger is testing the bounds of Internet privacy, First Amendment freedom of speech and whistle-blower rights."
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Hospital Wants Critical Blogger's Anonymity Ended

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  • Or else? :) (Score:1, Insightful)

    by nlitement (1098451) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:14AM (#20793125)
    "Or else he'll end up in the hospital!"
  • Libel (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FST (766202) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:17AM (#20793139) Journal
    If he's spewing false information, then libel is libel. He can and should be punished. Just because he's on the intarwebz doesn't mean he has immunity.

    On the other hand, if he's telling the truth, the hospital has no case.

    I don't see what the big deal is.
  • Hospital Blogging (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BoldAC (735721) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:17AM (#20793141)
    That was one of the reasons that I would previously let doctors post anonymously on carotids.com [carotids.com]. Medical systems are huge, reputation-based systems. If a hospital doesn't have a good community name, people will take their personal business elsewhere. So hospitals will sue and sue to protect their reps.

    Carotids has not thrived even with anonymous postings because docs are still scared. I still get frequent contacts with people considering posting... however, most never pull the trigger.

    Sad.
  • Re:Libel (Score:4, Insightful)

    by metlin (258108) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:22AM (#20793161) Journal
    Ahh, but how are they going to prove that it is the truth (or that it is libel)?

    I mean, he might be an insider who may know some things that an outsider may not - things that may be true but may come across as libel.

    I think that is the dilemma.
  • Re:Libel (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Courageous (228506) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:22AM (#20793163)

    Well. It's not that simple. It's fairly routine practice for large organizations to summarily terminate employees in situations like this, putting an enormous legal burden on the employee for suing for wrongful termination. You're talking six figures to press a case like this. Do you have that lying around?

    In the risk-versus-reward equation, the employer has a very high reward return through the suppression of similar activity by other employees, even if the specific employee wins their case. Fired is fired, and most people are rightly frightened of that, when a many-years-off reward of winning the lawsuit is their only recourse.

    C//
  • Re:Libel (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:24AM (#20793181) Homepage
    The issue is that many plaintiffs file a John Doe lawsuit against somebody, get their identity, and then drop the lawsuit and pursue other means of retribution.

    For example, a company suspects that a bloger saying bad but true things about the company is an employee. They know that they can't legally do anything about it - a trial will uncover the facts and show that the statements are true and thus not libel. However, they file a suit anyway to find out who the employee is. Then they drop the suit (since they'd lose it anyway). At this point that employee starts having performance problems, gets lousy assignments, and generally suffers until they quit - but of course nothing is attributed to the blog and nothing is done that would give the employee grounds to sue. Other employees of course get the message and learn not to post bad things about the company on the blog, which is what the company set out to accomplish in the first place.

    That's the problem with these sorts of lawsuits - they aren't about using the courts to obtain justice - they're about using the courts as a tool to remove the shield of anonymity used by weak people confronting strong ones who are doing something wrong.

    If the hospital were genuinely concerned about patient privacy they should go to the Feds and point out the issue and let them deal with it. The federal government would perform an investigation while protecting anonymity, and they'd be genuinely looking out for patients without an agenda of covering up hospital mistakes.
  • HIPAA Violation! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iknownuttin (1099999) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:25AM (#20793185)
    FTFA: Fox said Essent's biggest concern is that the blogger has said some hospital employees have given him patient records. Even though they have not been posted on the blog, Fox said this represents a violation of federal law and the company needs to find the employees who are doing it.

    IF that is true, then there absolutely needs to be an investigation. I'm all for allowing folks to honestly criticize care and use medical documentation that was authorized by the patient, but getting it without patient authorization?! I would have a problem with the employees that gave it to him. If the blogger is on to something, then he should approach the patients involved and ask them for the information. In this day of litigation, I'm sure most patients would jump on board for the chance of suing for $$$.

  • Medical Records? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:49AM (#20793353)
    "Fox said Essent's biggest concern is that the blogger has said some hospital employees have given him patient records. Even though they have not been posted on the blog, Fox said this represents a violation of federal law and the company needs to find the employees who are doing it."

    If he hasn't posted them on the blog, how are they so certain he's been given patient records?

    This sounds to me like maybe some of the employees told him something, probably *without* giving him access to the patient records, and possibly without any specifics (e.g., "we had a patient where x happened, and that was messed up"), and the company is crying 'he's been given medical records!' to make it seem like they have a better reason to get the employee names than they actually do.

  • If the blogger's accusations turn out to be false, the blogger's credibility will fall down like those wacky conspiracy theorists. Case closed. And if they turn to be true, cool, one point for justice.

    But certainly I don't think the blogger should be arrested for libel unless he gives his name and accuses the hospital. See, he's anonymous and his credibility is null. Big deal.

    I mean, it's like the rumour about a Coca Cola bottle with a rat inside. Nobody can verify it, and it's just hearsay. Or what about the people who say there are UFOs in Area 51? Are they going to get sued for libel, too?

    Around 10 years ago, where a famous news agency reported on the Chupacabra according to some information they found "in the internet!" (lol). Gee, the internet became the Brittanica all of a sudden ;-)

    If people start believing every freaking thing they see on the internet, then the problem isn't the blogger, or the hospital. It's the bunch of idiots behind the monitors of their compies. Why should people believe an ANONYMOUS blogger? Or everyone's guilty until proven innocent now?

    It's the authorities' duty, not ours, to judge the hospital.
  • by goombah99 (560566) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:04AM (#20793443)
    All you say is true but so what. Why should people who criticize have an expectation of anonymity or escape libel charges? Were assured free speech by our constitution but that is emphatically not an assurance of anonymous speech. We (in the US) are free to associate with whom we please and exclude reporters. But if we do say something publicly it becomes public.

    The fact that someone might fear retribution does not hold. People are obligated to testify in trials even though they might fear retribution. They don't testify anonymously. We do recognize extreme circumstances and conditions liable for abuse. That's why there's such things as the whistleblower protections laws and witness protection programs. But those are not for everyone.
  • by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:17AM (#20793515) Homepage
    Whistleblowers serve the public interest. They should be encouraged to speak up and shielded in any way which is just.

    If somebody says something libelous (anonymous or otherwise) I'm fine with the courts having power to punish them. However, people should be subject to the courts and not the other way around - the courts don't exist simply to help you silence your critics.

    Judges should be able to evaluate the merits and facts of a case, and choose to not grant discovery of an identity in cases where there are not sufficient grounds to win a lawsuit. It wouldn't be hard to do - if a blog is libelous then the company should be able to show that it is factually incorrect and caused harm. Neither of these require disclosure of the blogers identity.
  • by BVis (267028) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:28AM (#20793597)
    All things being equal, I would agree; it's not a private institution's job to enforce federal regulation.

    However, HIPPA is a very fucking scary piece of legislation. If the hospital isn't doing EVERYTHING in its power to determine who's leaking this information, the patient and/or the patient's family (or survivors) can sue the hospital into oblivion. It's in the hospital's financial interest to destroy this guy by any means necessary (both because they'll lose business from negative publicity and the fear of a civil suit); whether it's 'right' or 'wrong' never enters into the discussion.

    This leaves aside the fact that the hospital should actually FIX things if they don't like what's being said (and if it's even partially true). It's kind of like the RIAA trying to solve the problem of declining record sales; instead of fixing what's wrong (the product sucks, CDs are an order of magnitude too expensive), they try to use the courts to enforce the status quo.
  • by Trikenstein (571493) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:29AM (#20793609)
    That way if they are unattractive they can be sued into poverty.
    And if they are hawt, they can be made into media darlings.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2007 @12:17PM (#20793927)
    I secretly accuse you of crime x.
    I have nothing to back up this accusation but an appeal to authority upon myself "I am the witness".
    I am anonymous, therefore my argument is self defeating.

    When a doctor claims to be an expert on certain facts, you believe him because you can verify their expertise through tests. Of course, this is a trust issue. You're not really verifying the objective truth by trusting an expert. You're committing a logical fallacy, the appeal-to-authority, ipse dixit, or whatever you may refer to it as. Unless you can understand the experiment, you're really not qualified to decide what is true and what is not.

    So why do we trust witness testimony at all? If something cannot be objectively verified through scientific experimentation, how can we not have reasonable doubt about most everything?

    I thought it was common to ignore anonymous witness testimony. There's no argument to respect in it, its toothless.

    I thought it was fine to accept information from an anonymous source so long as there was other channels to verify the objective truth through experimentation.

    Am I out to lunch here?
  • Re:Libel (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2007 @12:21PM (#20793963)
    It's time to start rewarding whistle-blowers, or at least giving them *SOME* legal protection.

    The fact that whistle-blowers need ANY protection is pretty much a sign of how bad corporate corruption has become. You'd think that people would be lining up to hire these outstanding young men and women who had the integrity and honor to stand against malfeasance, but no, I guess everyone's too busy trying to hire toadies who will look the other way as numbers get munged and people get poisoned.

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