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pjp
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 06, 2002 1:22 am    Post subject: Cheers to AOL Reply with quote

AOL Loses Subscriber Privacy Suit

For at least fighting the issue. I can't say as I like the company much, but at least they are fighting for Good in this case.
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B_F_Skinner
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2002 11:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My question is:

Does the 1st amendment guarantee a right to speak ANONYMOUSLY or just FREELY?
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rac
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2002 11:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

mcg wrote:
Does the 1st amendment guarantee a right to speak ANONYMOUSLY or just FREELY?

In McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission (1995), the US Supreme Court struck down an Ohio law banning anonymous campaign leaflets, saying that anonymous political speech was protected under the First Amendment. This was affirmed in 2001 in the decision in Watchtower Bible v. Stratton, where a law requiring religious door-to-door proselytizers to register and identify themselves was struck down on First Amendment grounds.

However, fraud, libel, and harrassment are not protected speech, and First Amendment anonymity protection does not shelter anyone here. If a wronged party can demonstrate that the speech was criminal (as apparently Nam Tai was able to do in the case kanuslupus cites), a subpoena can be granted. So if, for example, someone sends a death threat via a forged email, and tracing information in the headers leads to the fact that the email was sent from IP address a.b.c.d at time t, it would likely be possible to get a subpoena to have the ISP in charge of that address block tell the court which subscriber was assigned that IP address at that time.

In general, political speech is the most heavily protected form of speech under US case law. Commercial speech is less so, and criminal speech (harrassment, fraud, etc.) enjoys almost no protection.
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EzInKy
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2002 11:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is a horrendous ruling. If it stands it would mean that you could be held liable for anything and everything that you have ever typed at a keyboard. I know the EFF and AOL would make strange bedfellows, but the OSS community really needs to back the coaster factory on this one.
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rac
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 30, 2002 1:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm a fairly big free speech fan and First Amendment absolutionist, but what is the benefit to society of anonymous libel?
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EzInKy
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 30, 2002 6:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

According to the article, the poster wrote "...an observation of this company's stock market performance". An observation is an opinion, not a statement of fact. For example, you and I may observe that a certain operating system is prone to be unstable and subject to frequent crashes.

Now, suppose the company that makes the operating system disagrees with our assessment of their product and demands that the our ISPs, and the ISPs of everyone who ever posted a negative opinion of their product reveal private information in order to prosecute all naysayers for libel?

The harm to society would be that people would not be able to give their honest opinions without fear of retribution from corporatons with very deep pockets.
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rac
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 30, 2002 7:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

EzInKy wrote:
According to the article, the poster wrote "...an observation of this company's stock market performance". An observation is an opinion, not a statement of fact.

Apparently a court was convinced that the posting (which may have been quoted incompletely or out of context in the article) was not simply an opinion, because opinion is a complete defense against libel. Expressing an opinion can never be declared libelous.
Quote:
For example, you and I may observe that a certain operating system is prone to be unstable and subject to frequent crashes.

Truth is another airtight defense against libel. ;)

Quote:
Now, suppose the company that makes the operating system disagrees with our assessment of their product and demands that the our ISPs, and the ISPs of everyone who ever posted a negative opinion of their product reveal private information in order to prosecute all naysayers for libel?

In order to rise to the standard of libel, said company would have to prove:
  • that we claimed something to be a fact, not opinion
  • that said claim was false
  • that we knew it to be false
  • that it actually damaged them
  • that we made our defamatory statements maliciously (or maybe negligently depending on whether the company is held to be a public figure)
Quote:
The harm to society would be that people would not be able to give their honest opinions without fear of retribution from corporatons with very deep pockets.

If somebody accused me anonymously of being a child molestor, I would want the courts to be able to subpoena that person's identity.
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EzInKy
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 30, 2002 9:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

We both obviously have diametrically opposite viewpoints on this subject, and that is what makes the world such an interesting place B-). I certainly can understand your viewpoint on wanting to know who is accusing you of something that you clearly are innocent of, and it's near impossible to spend anytime on this world without having been in a situation of being blamed for something that you did not do.

Conversely, fear of reprisal leads to situations where wrongs are not righted because the price of disclosure is just too high. This is one of the main reasons high crime areas exist where there may be 100 bystanders, all seeing nothing when a crime is commited.
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Mnemia
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 30, 2002 9:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If someone anonymously accuses you of something, then that is clearly not a credible account. Why should you be able to sue someone for something like that when no reasonable person would believe them anyway? I sure don't take anonymous accusations very seriously and I don't think anyone should. People should learn not to believe everything they read, especially from anonymous sources.

That said, I'd say that there are important benefits to anonymity in some cases, since anonymity can allow individuals to criticize groups that they otherwise could not. It shouldn't be absolute (eg, child porn photos posted anonymously) but for commercial criticism or political debate I definitely support a right to anonymity. It's one of the few weapons we as individuals have left against powerful corporations and governments in this overly litigious society.
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