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The Courts Government Privacy United States News Politics

NJ Blogger Fights for Anonymous Free Speech 406

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the let's-out-people-in-witsec-next dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes "A New Jersey blogger is fighting for his right to blog anonymously and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked a Superior Court judge in New Jersey to preserve the blogger's free speech rights as he faces legal threats from local government officials. On June 13, 2007, the New Jersey Township of Manalapan filed a malpractice suit against its former attorney Stuart Moskovitz, alleging misconduct regarding the Township's purchase of polluted land in 2005. The decision to file suit was met by a lively debate in the regional press and among local bloggers. One blogger who was particularly critical of the Township was datruthsquad. Attorneys for the Township issued a subpoena to Google demanding that the identity of this anonymous critic be turned over, along with datruthsquad's contact information, blog drafts, e-mails, and 'any and all information related to the blog.' Despite repeated requests from EFF to explain how this could be anything other than an attempt to out a vocal critic, attorneys for the Township have refused to withdraw the subpoena and informed EFF that it can go to court to object to the subpoena. In a motion to quash the subpoena, EFF has asked the court to block the township [PDF] in its attempt to uncover the identity of 'daTruthSquad' and allow the blogger to continue to write about this or any other issue without being forced to identity him or herself."
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NJ Blogger Fights for Anonymous Free Speech

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  • Can you feel it? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by scubamage (727538) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:27PM (#21563781)
    First they can bully their way through to getting a critics name. Next they won't have to bully because it'll become common practice. Its sad... can anyone else feel it? One by one our freedoms are being taken away, and the majority of the American populace is too busy watching who is going to be the next American Idol or seeing who is Dancing with the Stars to give two shits. Its pathetic. This apathy and ignorance is probobly the biggest slap to the face to the founders of this country, even moreso than the current administrations' abuses of the constitution. If there are any fine, foxy Canadian ladies out there interested in adopting a cynical geek from the states, send me a PM, I can't stand living here anymore.
  • by ZWithaPGGB (608529) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:29PM (#21563795)
    Public officials should not be protected in this way. They protect themselves with "Parliamentary Privilege", so they should not have protection from others.

    In New Jersey, being identified as the person who outed corrupt officials could be lethal (mob).
  • That was dumb... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinisto (415985) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:32PM (#21563829) Journal
    While agree with the EFF's premise (in that someone shouldn't be forced into identifying him/herself just because they've been vocal about a public issue), I have to wonder... WTF would the township do with the info?

    Sure, if the blogger turns out to be a public employee of said township, he/she would prolly be fired. Then again, the nanosecond after they did such a thing, esp. after outing him/her in such a public manner, would likely put themselves at substantial legal risk.

    But the main point for the township being stupid by doing it is this: what was once a thing that could be scoffed at as 'some guy on the Internet who knows nothing about this'... now has credence, credibility, and a firm aura of truth; all of which has now been granted to him/her/it by the township's idiot legal team.

    Personally, if Congress wants to do something useful (well...), they could work on something legislative-like that would prevent government-as-plaintiff in a civil suit from ever being allowed to out any anonymous posting, publication, or what-have-you.

    Man - some people just can't grok the concept of not using every tool they have for a difficult problem, simply because they're all there and sitting in the toolbox.

    /P

  • Re:That was dumb... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:34PM (#21563855)
    You are probably breaking three or four laws right now and you do not even know it.

    The township can make the guy's life hell-- can make his friend's lives hell so he loses his friends (assuming it is a guy).

    Ben Franklin would have been outed very early in his career under this standard.
  • by Grampaw Willie (631616) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:39PM (#21563895) Homepage
    Blogging, and writing web pages are non-invasive: I am not going to receive the material unless I search for it and select it. Non-invasive postings are like a newspaper in that respect. If I don't like your newspaper I don't subscribe and after that if you continue to drop it off on me that is littering. anonymous non-invasive postings are fine eMails, phone calls, FAXs, and executable codes are INVASIVE. If you bust through my door without identifying yourself and stating your business I like to put a boot in the seat of your pants. we have already won on FAXs and on Caller-ID. Next will be eMails and executable codes. NO SIGNATURE? NO EXECUTE.
  • Re:That was dumb... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by QuantumRiff (120817) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:41PM (#21563911)
    Then again, the nanosecond after they did such a thing, esp. after outing him/her in such a public manner, would likely put themselves at substantial legal risk.

    But with lawyers involved, thats not how it works. They would ignore him for awhile, giving the coworkers better performance reviews (not bad for the employee, but better for the others) ensuring the others get promotions. They would slowly change the scope of work of the employee, to set them up to fail. They would also start doing LOTS of random audits of his department, writing him up for making a personal call, hitting their banks website, etc. So that they will have a paper trail in the employee's file showing they were bad. Other co-workers would file complaints about little things, which would get added to the pile, etc. Basically, they will drive the employee so low that they will hate it, and quit.
  • Re:Can you feel it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Grimbleton (1034446) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:48PM (#21564001)
    Pick up your rifle. Band together with others of like minds. March on your government.

    Once there are enough of us, we open fire.


    Figuratively speaking of course. Violence has never been the way to secure your freedom from a corrupt government.
  • Re:Can you feel it? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Torodung (31985) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:53PM (#21564055) Journal

    This apathy and ignorance is probably the biggest slap to the face to the founders of this country, even moreso than the current administrations' abuses of the constitution.
    Yup. And any time we "refuse to discuss politics because it's stupid or biased or subjective," or claim that "all politicians are crooks," "nothing is done right in Washington" we add to that apathy, and turn more fully towards a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Everyone telling you that any whole party in Washington is a cadre of crooks is, in fact, a crook trying to get you to surrender your political power. There are a few crooks, quite a few, but on the whole, many more of them do just as we ask them to, and their best despite that. We have the government that meets our superficial apathetic attitudes towards all things political.

    (*gets on soapbox*)

    My fellow Americans, do what you do best. Follow the money. There's several trillion dollars per annum tied up in politics, and all that money equals vast power. If we want our country back, we need to put politics back on the table, and drop this 1960's attitude that politics are for weenies and crooks. Politics are important and it is our civic duty to discuss the "State of the Union." All the corporations with lobbyists at Washington know this. We don't bother, because discussions about politics are "unsavory" and politicians are "worthless."

    The hippies were wrong. All the governments they formed have faded, or been incorporated. This huge government is still getting larger, and it is critical that its people demand its service.

    Sure, we might get into fist fights over it at a party, but everyone needs to put politics back on the table. Now. Fist fights be damned.

    --
    Toro
  • by olddotter (638430) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:55PM (#21564081) Homepage
    Ok maybe this is an tangential question to the subject. But I'm wondering does the ability to post anonymously create more truthful revelation because people are not afraid of retribution? Or does it create more bogus BS because people know they can't be held accountable?
  • by djasbestos (1035410) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:56PM (#21564089)
    Indeed...I don't think it should be considered a tort if Lewis Black calls George Bush an asshole.

    And datruthsquad doesn't seem at all libelous or slanderous (from what I read on his blog), so it sounds like a vindictive city council. Which, needless to say, is bullshit.
  • by abigsmurf (919188) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:58PM (#21564127)
    If you don't turn up to court to defend your writing against libel, if wouldn't be terribly difficult for a court to find most things injurious to the character and reputation of a person/organization. The paradox is that without a defence, you're not likely to be cleared but to mount a defence you have to give up anonymity. Hence why these things can't really have initial hearings. Only chance is if a judge thinks there's no case to answer.
  • by andy314159pi (787550) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:09PM (#21564257) Journal

    destroy my anonymity you have to prove libel occurred.

    IANAL

    You have to prove more than just libel...
    you have to prove that there was no malice in the intention, that you were not presenting an opinion (that you were presenting your statements as pure facts), and that the statements were false.
    IANAL
  • by vux984 (928602) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:16PM (#21564331)
    But what if the blogger is in fact the guy being sued for malpractice or someone directly involved in the case? Should that still be protected? Should someone be allowed to create 'sock puppet sympathizers' to defend them? To editorialize on their behalf? To criticize their opponents with impunity?

    Something seems wrong with that. When speaking anonymously its easy to say things because you have no personal accountability for what's said. That can be used for good and for evil. I'm not sure it should be automatically protected.

    After all, we'd be outraged if Walmart managers started series of grassroots anti-union blogs in a number of places... "I'm just an anonymous low level walmart employee like you whose against the unionization because... reason reason reason reason... and I'm posting anonymously because I fear retaliation from the union rabble rousers who just want to consolidate power for themselves. I we unionize they'll win, and we'll all lose. And then over the following weeks posted all kinds of stuff criticising the union organizers in every way imaginable."

    Each blog would repeat the others and manufacture 'truth by repetition'.

    There'd be no way to prove it was management, because of course:

    We must protect anonoymous online journalists!!111!

  • by Xchagger (655731) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:19PM (#21564385)
    If you are involved in the case, yes, you should have to divulge your identity. If the blogger is not involved in the case, their anonymity should be safe. Hence why I said, at best, Google should have to divulge whether or not it is the defendant. If it is, they are guilty of perjury, if not, then the person remains anonymous. I'm sure legally it can't work that way. The law system has a tendancy to be all or nothing. Just saying that I believe the prosecuters have a right to know whether or not it is the defendant making the blogs. He said no under oath, that doesn't mean he wasn't lying. I believe they have a right to verify the truth when the information is available. I do not believe they should be privy to any information other than whether or not he was lying. If the law states they need all the information, not just the pertinent information, then no, they shouldn't have it. I do not know the law though.
  • by internic (453511) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:25PM (#21564451)

    You are probably breaking three or four laws right now and you do not even know it.

    The township can make the guy's life hell-- can make his friend's lives hell so he loses his friends (assuming it is a guy).

    This is very likely true. To amplify this point, I can say that in my town (a small town of a little over 1000 homes) there are many laws about all sorts of ridiculous minutiae that are only selectively enforced. These include laws that say, for example, that your trash cans can't be visible from the road (unless it's trash day), regulate the length of your grass, etc. As an experiment, one day I walked around my area of the town (which does not seem to be exceptional in any way) and looked for violations of the ordinances. I found roughly one half of the houses I passed had a violation readily apparently from walking by on the road, and that was only based on the ones I remember off the top of my head. This completely ignores other issues like applying for permits, traffic tickets, etc.

    I think most localities have a lot of overly broad, unnecessary, largely unenforced laws like this which essentially mean the government (and other people with influence) have the de facto power to go after whomever they please. Thankfully, at least in my town, it's not currently used too often with too much malice. I'd like to see such laws repealed, but, based on town meetings I've been to, I don't think most other people see it that way.

  • Re:Can you feel it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Achromatic1978 (916097) <robert@@@chromablue...net> on Monday December 03, 2007 @05:06PM (#21565003)

    Okay, I could easily pay off $30-$50k within 1 year of graduation if I needed to as that is (more or less) how much I put into saving within one year of graduation.

    What's amusing is that you honestly appear to think you're not an edge case, and that most graduates should be able to put aside $50,000 a year in savings. Apparently you believe that across the board, given a roughly twenty per cent tax rate, that the average wage of a college graduate is bearing in on $100,000.

    Wow.

    Really?

    Let's take a wee peek at MIT. Hardly a bottom of the barrel college, and bear in mind they only offer figures from 2003-2005. In 2003, of 115 four year graduates surveyed, not one made more than $94,000. The median was $54,000. 2004, still, no-one had topped a $100,000 salary, though the median climbed slightly. In 2005 a MIT graduate could expect to make $59,000 their first year out of college.

    And yet here you are, lambasting people for not being able to save $50,000 their first year out of college? I'm impressed.

  • by mdielmann (514750) on Monday December 03, 2007 @05:24PM (#21565227) Homepage Journal
    Writing anonymously isn't against the law. So the question is, is the blogger straying from facts, or portraying opinions as facts? If he isn't doing those in his blog, then whatever he's doing out of his blog has little or no bearing. After all, if they knew who he was, they wouldn't be asking these questions.
    Besides, if the RIAA has taught me one thing, it's that cases can be brought against John/Jane Does where it can be decided that there is enough merit to do so, and then the name can be subpoenaed. Granted, it seems that threshold is pretty low.

    In short, if they haven't tried to bring a case of libel against 'daTruthSquad' as a John Doe, the subpoena is probably a chilling tactic.

    No, I didn't read the article, and IANAL. This is /., and uninformed opinions are enshrined.
  • by AmigaHeretic (991368) on Monday December 03, 2007 @07:40PM (#21566411) Journal
    In 1722 a series of letters appeared in the New-England Courant written by a middle-aged widow named 'Silence Dogood'. The letters poked fun at various aspects of life in colonial America, such as the drunkenness of locals and the fashion for hoop petticoats.

    Silence was particularly fond of ridiculing Harvard. She complained that it had been ruined by corruption and elitism, and that most of its students learned nothing there except how to be conceited.

    This was the first of many of Benjamin Franklin's hoaxes.

    So I'm guessing some of the founding fathers of our nation and at least this Signer of the Declaration of Independence would have this guys back. ;-)

    http://www.pbs.org/benfranklin/pop_dogood.htm [pbs.org]
    http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/dogood.html [museumofhoaxes.com]

"Ignorance is the soil in which belief in miracles grows." -- Robert G. Ingersoll

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