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The Courts Government Privacy United States News Politics

NJ Blogger Fights for Anonymous Free Speech 406

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

    by scubamage ( 727538 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:36PM (#21563863)
    Hmm, an uneducated answer. See, its hard to get citizenship elsewhere when you're massively in debt. However, there are very few uneducated jobs available in the US thanks to Clinton's push to have them eliminated. This leaves people no choice but to go to college, which for most people means tens of thousands of dollars in debt. This is my situation. So, as much as I would like to just renounce it, it isn't that easy (unless of course you're a troll who has nothing to really add to a conversation).
  • Re:Can you feel it? (Score:3, Informative)

    by techpawn ( 969834 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:42PM (#21563929) Journal
    I think you where trying to get across the point of a chilling effect [] but you lost me half way through your little diatribe...
  • Bearing on the case? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Xchagger ( 655731 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:55PM (#21564087)
    According to the article, they are attempting to discover the bloggers identity not to call them out or persecute them, but to make sure it isn't the defendant in the case.

    The township subpoenaed Google for "daTruthSquad's" identity -- as well as for any emails, blog drafts, and other information Google has about the blogger -- claiming that the defendant in the case is actually writing the posts. The defendant, however, has already sworn under penalty of perjury that he is not "daTruthSquad."
    Why this was left out of the article summary, I am not sure. While I don't personally think that giving away the person's identity is right, I do think the prosecutors have the right to know whether or not the defendant is posting these blogs to cause a big ruckos and to support their cause. Especially since the defendant has already testified it is not them. If they lied, they are guilty of purjury. If google could just verify that the blogger is not infact the defendant, I think that would be fair enough.
  • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:56PM (#21564101)

    But if you are slanderous or libelous, you should be held accountable.
    I agree.
    The closest analog here I think is the issue of anonymous Pamphleteering. As I recall the common law is that you can do so anonymously. But there's also no right to that anonymity. That is, the Government or whom ever is not prevented from piercing your anonymity if they can.

    Additionally there's the common law of prior restraint. With few exceptions, the government cannot act to prevent you from saying something that would be illegal or uncivil for you to say.

    Thus the desire to prevent you from speaking something can't be ground for the government to require non-anonymous speech.

    On the other hand the soapboxes we use to connect to the web are all owned by entitites. Those entitities can set up their own rules and policies. And one of those could be non anaoymous free speech.

    I suppose other countries--not the USA-- may have different rules. Things may be different in china and stockholm.

  • EFF Twists Truth? []

    David Weeks, an attorney representing Manalapan, says the foundation is twisting a routine legal request in a local lawsuit into a First Amendment case.
    "We're not asking to interfere with anyone's right to speak," Weeks said.
    Instead, Manalapan's attorneys are simply asking Google to establish whether Moskovitz was telling the truth when he denied he was the blogger in court papers related to the land deal lawsuit.
    "I don't know one way or the other if it's him," Weeks said. "It could be him."

    So, some facts:

    a) The guy getting sued is being sued because he didn't file EPA paperwork on a land deal. In NJ, that's pretty dumb, so he could be guilty of malpractice.
    b) The guy getting sued is actually the former mayor of the same county that is suing him.
    c) Yes, NJ is crooked.

    However, with that said, if DaTruthSquad is the former mayor, and he is posting on about stuff, he could be violating various other things, compromising a sealed case, who knows, and therefor, the government -does- have an interest in knowing if it is him.

    Note that the point is, Google isn't getting sued to see -who- DaTruthSquad is. Google is getting sued to reveal if the guy is the former mayor. Not to say that everyone is angelic, but, in all probability, DaTruthSquad is probably a crook himself.

    As Bob Dylan wrote: "In Jersey everything's legal, as long as you don't get caught."

  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @05:27PM (#21564475) Journal

    Rather than trying to find some cloak of invisibility he should be preparing his defence with his lawyer.
    You're not American, are you?

    It should be noted that America's laws re: libel and slander are much more permissive than those in Britain or most formerly British colonies.

    This is most certainly political speech, and anonymity is important to preserving free speech when fear of retribution is a factor (Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 65 (1960).

    See Dendrite International, Inc. v. Doe No. 3, 775 A.2d 756, 771 (N.J. App.Div. 2001) for establishment of criteria underwhich the state of NJ can/should overturn the right of anonymity in favor of the defamation claims.

    It's also important to note that the NJ Constitution is even more protective of free speech rights than the US Constitution -- the state (and local governments) have much less right to abridge free speech in NJ.
  • by brjndr ( 313083 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @05:36PM (#21564599)
    IAAL, but not in New Jersey. This is a general synopsis, not specific to any state. Check with a lawyer to determine your own situation. Usually....

    The truth is an absolute defense to defamation.

    You have the other part wrong. The burden is on the plaintiff to show that there was malice, not on the defendant to show there wasn't. And that is only if the person defamed is a public figure. A city counsel person should be a public figure. Normal people who are defamed usually don't have to show malice.
  • Re:Can you feel it? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) * on Monday December 03, 2007 @05:50PM (#21564773) Homepage Journal

    Its rather amazing what a government can do to you without actually putting you in prison.
    What is really amazing is how much you can do to them before they can put you in prison. Here in the US - despite the current trend toward tyranny - you can do a lot that would get you imprisioned or even executed in many other countries.
  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <> on Monday December 03, 2007 @05:50PM (#21564781) Homepage
    IAAL. But if anyone takes this as legal advice you're on crack.

    The issue here is the subpoena is aimed at Google, not the anonymous person. I know in the federal courts a party can't object to a subpoena issued to a third party, unless the former has some sort of private right in the information/documents sought. In this case it might be, I don't know what any contract or license says regarding google's privacy policy. But in most places it would be up to Google to object to the subpoena, not the individual.
  • by beckerist ( 985855 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @06:54PM (#21565533) Homepage
    To sum your post up concisely: the difference is the objectivity of the statement. You can't be charged/arrested for having an opinion. You CAN be charged/arrested for an untrue objective statement.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2007 @07:40PM (#21565957)
    then it is reserved to the states (or in this case, a local government).

    Guess what, New Jersey has a Constitution [] too. Looks like New Jersey citizens had something to say about what powers should be reserved to the state and which should be reserved to the people!

    Let's see what they said about it...
    -Every person may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right. ... In all prosecutions or indictments for libel, the truth may be given in evidence to the jury; and if it shall appear to the jury that the matter charged as libelous is true, and was published with good motives and for justifiable ends, the party shall be acquitted; and the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the fact.
    -No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense, unless on the presentment or indictment of a grand jury
    -The people have the right freely to assemble together, to consult for the common good, to make known their opinions to their representatives, and to petition for redress of grievances.
    -The Governor may cause an investigation to be made of the conduct in office of any officer or employee who receives his compensation from the State of New Jersey, except a member, officer or employee of the Legislature or an officer elected by the Senate and General Assembly in joint meeting, or a judicial officer.

    I'm unable to find anything in there giving the state of NJ the right to run about unmasking people without cause or due process. If they think daTruthSquad's stuff is libelous, then they can press charges and have a warrant issued.
  • Re:Can you feel it? (Score:3, Informative)

    by scubamage ( 727538 ) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @01:38AM (#21568523)
    My apologies, I was pulling it from memory and I screwed up the adverb. The actual quote is: "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." I think your googleventures will be much easier :)

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead