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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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  • by redelm (54142) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:54AM (#20793391) Homepage
    Yes, you bring up a very good point of the courts [powers] being misused this way. It probably doesn't happen very often, but it doesn't need to in order to have a strong chilling effect.

    While the courts naturally have a tendency to see litigants agree and save them the burden of deciding, perhaps there are cases where such laxness is not in the public interest. IMHO, courts ought to approval all settlements (including withdraw/dismissals). Once the sword of public justice has been unsheathed, the public has an interest in how it was used.

    Plaintiffs ought to be a bit afraid that they will be chastised if their case is frivolous or otherwise abusive. Smark defendants will lock the plaintiffs down by cross-filing, but this does not protect third parties who have no standing. So the judge ought to consider amicus briefs.

  • Re:Libel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Original Replica (908688) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:49AM (#20793751) Journal
    However, they file a suit anyway to find out who the employee is. Then they drop the suit (since they'd lose it anyway).

    So we need a mechanism with which a defendant can demand that the case be seen through to completion. That would seem to be the best whistle-blower protection of all. Finish the trial, complete with discovery and documentation of evidence of the validity of the claims.
  • by metlin (258108) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:32AM (#20794041) Journal
    Oh I agree with you.

    I was just questioning the stupidity of the hospital's stance. Imagine a traditional print media, with someone sending letters to a newspaper about something they think is true. How would they find out who the person was? Especially if the person took measures not to be found (i.e. cut paste words from the newspaper and avoid putting their fingerprints on it blah blah).

    So why should it be any different on the Internet?

    Anonymity is one of the fundamental tenets for the preservation of privacy. Your words may have consequences, therefore, sometimes people express their thoughts anonymously in the hope that doing so would protect them from the probable consequences. The downside to that, of course, is that people may not particularly take them seriously.

    This guy expressed his thoughts anonymously. So?

    Since they are the ones accusing the blogger, they should be the ones who d evidence to prove that it is libel. If not, they have no case against him and any half decent judge would throw their case through the window.
  • by Dr_Art (937436) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:32AM (#20794043) Journal
    Here's a better link that includes links to the actual court documents: http://www.citmedialaw.org/texas-judge-orders-discovery-anonymous-bloggers-identity [citmedialaw.org]

    The blog is here: http://the-paris-site.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

    I don't see how the blogger is liable for anything HIPAA related. The complaint references criminal law and Essent's own responsibility to keep patients' information private, nothing relevant to a blogger or the independent actions of Essent's employees. E.g., Essent could fire the employees under the confidentiality agreement, but they reference no matter of law that says the employees are otherwise liable. There may be some other documents or law not mentioned by the complaint, but I don't see how the blogger is a party to such matters, especially since he/she likely never signed the employees' confidentiality agreements. Also, I don't see how Essent has standing to prosecute federal HIPAA violation in state civil court.

    I don't know why the blogger and the other Does are joined in a lawsuit as well. Any HIPAA violation between Essent and employees would be a distinct event from the publishing of any such information on the blog. As in the RIAA lawsuits, it seems this would be a valid way to appeal the imminent order from the judge. (Although remember this is state district court and the RIAA lawsuits are federal district court.) Also note that the blogger's lawyer has come forward (see lawyer's Aug letter, although the judge's Sept order says he has not), so the case can continue on it's merits without the need to disclose the blogger's identity.

    I also don't see any specific allegations of defamation. Defamation is hard to prove, and I don't see anything in the complaint that couldn't be interpreted as opinion by a reasonable person, or is simply disclosing internal happenings in the hospital, which would be known to a lot of the hospital's employees and patients. If a hospital employee relates false information on the blog or to the blogger, then that employee would be the defamer, and not the blogger. E.g., who would reasonably assume that an anonymous blogger would be an authority on the inner workings of Essent, and use that one blogger's opinion to judge Essent? Of course, it's possible the blogger is an employee. It's also possible that the blogger and all other Does are patients.

    Finally, I was amused by a couple of things in the complaint. First, to see an employer refer to the employees' "breaches of the employees' duty of loyalty". What?!? Employers and employees have a legal obligation of loyalty? I sure haven't seen many employers show loyalty to their employees, but then that's another thread... Second, the complaint says the blog is publicly available (that's how the hospital's business would supposedly be harmed), and that "...the blog has as it's sole purpose to conduct a one-sided attack and disparagement of the Hospital, PRMC, and their employees and doctors, and is in no manner intended to be an open and fair discussion of issues." OK, so that's why you filed a lawsuit instead of posting to the publicly available blog your open and fair rebuttal of the issues raised?!?!

    I don't know the blogger, the other Does, or Essent, and IANAL, so I can only hope the truth of this matter comes out in court.

    Regards,
    Art
  • by westlake (615356) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @03:13PM (#20795583)
    It seems to me that that before you charge someone of committing libel, you must first prove that his/her accusations against you are untrue.

    The libel is in the words that is reasonable to believe will damage your reputation.

    Truth is a modern defense to an action for libel. There was in the past the belief that "truth" did not always contribute to civil and productive political debate.

    That defaming your neighbors was a disturbance of the peace.

    Imagine the zealot who makes it his life's mission to expose homosexuals to public humiliation and you will get the general idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2007 @04:14AM (#20799919)
    The area east of Dallas in TX is a wide open land called "East TX" - one of the most backwards, traditional, bible thumping shithole scary places in the US. These people are more stupid than the Alabamans. Medical care (mostly in Tyler) is the only real business - and oil land speculating. The law their is more crooked and corrupt than you can imagine -- think China and bribes, and back-room smoky deals, and rich old men running things. Think Bush never serving in the national guard, after jumkping a 500 person waiting list to "serve" on the Champaign Patrol for rich kids to dodge Vietnam. That was there in East TX.

    It is a very sad day for (the) US that any legal precident is set there.
  • In my view (IANAL), I think the paintiff should have to show that:

    1) If what they say is true, there is cause for action and
    2) They have at least some basic evidence of the accusations.

    For example, if they can produce a posting which shows that the blog did in fact claim to have received patient records, that would significantly help on showing this. I wouldn't want my medical records being handed to some blogger without my permission.

    This is an interesting case because it tests the rights to privacy of a large number of parties. It isn't just about free speech, but security of medical records, and the like. If the hospital has evidence of what they are accusing, this probably should go to court. If not, then it shouldn't.

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