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Canadian Judge Orders Disclosure of Anonymous Posters 250

Posted by timothy
from the or-you'll-get-a-mountie's-hoofprint dept.
debrain writes "The Globe and Mail is reporting that Google and a newspaper called The Coast must disclose all information they have about the identity of individuals who posted anonymous comments online about top firefighters in Halifax. The story in question is titled 'Black firefighters file human rights complaint,' and there are some heated opinions in the comments."
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Canadian Judge Orders Disclosure of Anonymous Posters

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  • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:10PM (#31847652) Journal
    ...wrote them all!
  • The best way to post comments in any heated debate is semi-anonymously, using a disposable e-mail address and a public Internet connection (or better yet, TOR). This is fairly effective at discouraging this sort of ridiculousness.

    • by MadCow42 (243108)

      Also, use a disposable email address from a company without a legal presence in the country you're posting in. Preferably some country at odds with them.

      A Canadian judge will not likely be able to compel a Libian ISP to disclose your identity. :)

  • by rueger (210566) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:18PM (#31847750) Homepage
    Wow - the comments on the Globe and Mail site are even less informed than those found on Slashdot for discussions like this!

    What's hard to understand? If you write or broadcast something libelous or slanderous you risk a lawsuit.

    Just because you identified yourself as Poopybear4556 doesn't eliminate your liability.

    If you don't want to be identified the onus is on you to hide yourself, not on whoever runs a web site.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thank you rueger for your insightful comment. I look forward to many more of your anonymous comments in the future. However, in this instance perhaps you would like to take your irony pill before posting.

      Thank you

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      The Globe and Mail has done nothing but slide downhill for the last year and slowly becoming a Toronto Star Lite. So don't be surprised that the comments reflect that. As well, you can write slander/libel in Canada generally but not all the time. But then again our free speech laws aren't really very free either.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pclminion (145572)

      Just because you identified yourself as Poopybear4556 doesn't eliminate your liability.

      If society forms opinions of individuals based on pseudonymous commentary by people named "Poopybear4556" then society has a serious problem. I'd argue that anonymous (or pseudonymous) speech is far less damaging than identifiable speech, precisely because we don't know who's saying it and whether they are credible or not.

      If I called you in the middle of the night, identified myself as DorkFace08, and told you your momm

  • If a website doesn't record IPs of posters, and doesn't keep logs of who posts anonymously, it'd be rather hard to be able to comply with this. Hopefully they can do a "best that we can" response.

    • by Itninja (937614)
      If a website doesn't record IPs of posters, it probably doesn't exist. Now, a web server might not keep logs, but all website access IP's are logged somewhere. Either on the server, the router, or the ISP. Unless, of course, someone controls all the layers and specifically writes a utility to completely purge them. But I doubt it. At the very least, IP logs are used for basic diagnostics.
      • by Shakrai (717556)

        but all website access IP's are logged somewhere. Either on the server, the router, or the ISP.

        Huh? Why would an ISP log website visits? That's an awful lot of data you are talking about and even if they were inclined to collect it they'd probably run afoul of wiretapping and/or privacy laws in most western countries.

        • by Itninja (937614)
          That's laughably wrong. First of all, it's not "so much data". Even if it were trillions of IP a day that would easily fit of any run-of-the-mill SATA hard drive. We are talking 4 octets per visit here, not tomes of Emerson.

          Secondly, there are no laws preventing a server or service owner from keeping records of other people using their equipment. Now, giving that info up to authorities without a warrant might be bad, but keeping the info sure is not.
          • by Shakrai (717556)

            We are talking 4 octets per visit here

            Actually it would be a bit more than that. For the data to be meaningful you would also need to log the time (1x4 bytes), the port numbers (2x2 bytes), URL (variable size, let's call it 100 bytes of text to account for sites that pass variables in the URL), etc.

            Secondly, there are no laws preventing a server or service owner from keeping records of other people using their equipment.

            New York State Penal Law, Section 250.05, Eavesdropping:
            A person is guilty of eavesdropping when he unlawfully engages in wiretapping, mechanical overhearing of a conversation, or intercepting or accessing of an electronic communication.

      • by gknoy (899301)

        I disagree. Most sites track IPs for analysis, advertising, or troll-banning reasons. If I were writing a blog, forum, or discussion tool that was intended to have anonymous posts, I would never store the IP [except for the above reasons]. In light of anonymous things needing to be turned over to the police, I'd simply not collect it as part of my published privacy policy and data retention policy.

        • by Itninja (937614)
          Yeah, you probably wouldn't (neither would I). But I bet someone in the data-chain would be. If not you, then the site host. If not them, then probably your ISP. If not them, then probably the other persons' ISP. The whole idea of 'information wants to be free' applies to more than government secrets.
  • Canada vs US (Score:4, Informative)

    by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:25PM (#31847822)

    As Dean Steacy, chief investigator for the Canadian Human Rights Commission said: "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value."

    http://volokh.com/files/warmantranscript.pdf [volokh.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rickb928 (945187)

      Well said!

      And he can say that because he's the chief investigator for the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

      What freedom of speech we have here in America is paid for dearly. Canada pretty much retained the British definitions and conditions. They've made their bed.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        ...you don't have to be anonymous to say what you want since the government won't come after you no matter what. Individuals might hate you, though, but that shouldn't stop you now should it?

        It's only when you don't have free speech that you need to be anonymous.

      • by Shakrai (717556)

        Canada pretty much retained the British definitions and conditions. They've made their bed.

        Well, where do you suppose all the British Loyalists went after we kicked them and the Redcoats out of our country? Of course Canada hasn't caught up completely to the mother country. AFAIK they have less cameras than people, can still own firearms and haven't lost their right to remain silent.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by rickb928 (945187)

          There's a fair amount of Canada that traces its hearitage not to England, but France. And not just the Quebecois. The Maritimes are infested with some interesting nationalities also.

          And then there's the indigenous populations, who are regularly ignored there as well as here, on both coasts and up North.

      • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

        And he can say that because he's the chief investigator for the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

        As an American, I can say it too because I have that right.

        I'd just be wrong ;)

    • Re:Canada vs US (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ubergrendle (531719) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:56PM (#31848194) Journal
      Speech is construced as having accountability, especially regarding libel in british common law (and now canadian law). Free speech is not absolute -- it requires accountability. In this case, if a grieved person can *proove* who is spreading spurious lies (and they can prove they're lies), they have the right to restitution.

      There are lots of other provisions and protections in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We also have hate crime laws. Its different than the US, its not perfect...but to paint canada with a broad brush of 'you're fascists' is ridiculous. Our country's founders had the motto of 'peace, order, and good government.'. Slightly different motivations than Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- although most of the time they correlate.
      • by halivar (535827)

        "If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise." -- Noam Chomsky (I hate the guy's views on most things, but he's dead-on here)

  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:38PM (#31848000)

    The linked article is pretty bad and the original story had the comments in question removed. I did a little Googling and the upshot is, it looks like some people made allegedly libelous comments, so the people they defamed are suing and the identities were ordered to be revealed by a judge. So, I don't really see how this is any different than a normal libel case in the US. Freedom of speech has never been an unlimited right. It ends when it infringes upon other individual rights and libel and slander laws are pretty common examples of this.

    This is the most comprehensive article [metronews.ca] I found on the topic, but even it does not list any examples of the allegedly libelous comments.

    • Of course it doesn't list examples. In Canada, you can be sued for republishing defamatory comments.

  • by DarksideDaveOR (557444) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:50PM (#31848136)

    Posting anonymously on the internet is much like yelling something from the middle of a crowd. Most of the time no one cares who yells it. Even if they do, chances are they may not be able to track down the person who did the yelling. But if you're going to go out and shout things, you should be prepared for consequences (like the guy next to you decking you), even if there's a sign at the perimeter of the crowd saying "All shouting is anonymous."

    If someone cares enough to track you down for posting something stupid online, and you've made it POSSIBLE to track you down (instead of using a disposable e-mail and an internet connection that doesn't link back to your name), then maybe you deserve to pay some price for your comments. Especially if there's no legal protection behind the "Post Anonymously" checkbox.

  • by kaizendojo (956951) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:58PM (#31848220)
    ..isn't even what's going on in the Halifax Fire Department, it's what is going in the Halifax School System as evidenced by the comments:

    Erlyer this month to kids stabe a nother kid all because he would not give up his cell phone while waiting for a bus on Alderny. One of the young teens was arrested and now his mother and brother are crying fowl

    Holy jumping Jesus! I know it's Canada, but seriously folks...!

    • by maugle (1369813)
      Those might not be mistakes. Maybe it's "hip" in Canada to write sentences partially in Ye Olde English...
  • It's strange to me how people will say "free speech is incredibly important" and then say "you should not be accountable for your words". If words are important (and I believe they are) why shouldn't you be accountable for them? If you shouldn't be, why hold anyone accountable for anything? You can utterly destroy someone by spreading rumors about them.

    Words are much more powerful than guns or bombs or weapons of mass destruction (that's why free speech is so important). But free speech is not cowardly s

  • by PPH (736903) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:22PM (#31849316)
    ... that most of the comments were posted from phones registered to the president of Mexico [slashdot.org].
  • Its not that this thing happened in Canada or whatever that gets me. I get their law is different. My thought is asking GOOGLE to hand over identifying information about users who posted on a website not controlled by Google. Um, hello?

    Maybe there is something in the article, but I am too lazy to pull it up, and instead am going to blast unannonimously for all the world to hear.

  • by failedlogic (627314) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:39PM (#31849564)

    I'm deeply saddened to read of this incident involving the firefighter. Based on my experiences and observations some 15 years ago from living in the area, there is a deep history of racial tensions and racial segregation among 'whites' and 'blacks' in the area as a whole. Africville, which is now know as Preston/North Preston, generally seen as a community of repressed 'blacks' dating back to the 1900s. Wikipedia has a summary, but if I correctly recall there is a museum in the Halifax area dedicated to explaining the history of the segregation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africville,_Nova_Scotia [wikipedia.org]

    In addition, I lived in the Coal Harbour area of Halifx/Dartmouth and left some 15 years ago. I was witness to the first (of now several) riots that broke out at Cole Harbour High School. The first riot was certainly racially motivated, and the later ones from CBC accounts were as well.

    Here are some links:
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2008/03/25/coleharbour-violence.html [www.cbc.ca]
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2008/03/26/coleharbour-suspensions.html [www.cbc.ca]
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2008/03/25/coleharbour-violence.html [www.cbc.ca]

Gee, Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

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