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Court Rules in Favor of Anonymous Blogger

CowboyNeal posted about 9 years ago | from the little-man-wins dept.

Censorship 227

joel_archer writes "The Delaware Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a lower court decision requiring an Internet service provider to disclose the identity of an anonymous blogger who targeted a local elected official. Judge Steele described the Internet as a 'unique democratizing medium unlike anything that has come before,' and said anonymous speech in blogs and chat rooms in some instances can become the modern equivalent of political pamphleteering. 'We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously,' Steele wrote."

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Sad (0, Flamebait)

Brainix (748988) | about 9 years ago | (#13737482)

It makes me sad that this is news.

Re:Sad (3, Interesting)

dustinbarbour (721795) | about 9 years ago | (#13737493)

I hear ya'. The public in this country has taken a rash beating in the passed (past? Could a Slashdot grammar Nazi clarify?) years that we get all excited when things are decided in favor of the law. How ridiculous things have become. But never fear... Little things like this mean democracy and freedom still breathe!

OT: being a grammar Nazi. ;-) (1, Funny)

interactive_civilian (205158) | about 9 years ago | (#13737619)

dustinbarbour wanted help with the following:
The public in this country has taken a rash beating in the passed (past? Could a Slashdot grammar Nazi clarify?)
Past is a noun talking about the time before now (i.e. Past, present, and future), an adjective for talking about previous times (i.e. past tense, past few days), or a preposition (i.e. go past the post office)

Passed is either the past tense or past participle of the verb pass, and basically means to move past something (i.e. time passes, one car passed another, Those days have passed into history, etc).

So, for dustinbarbour the following would have been correct: The public in this country has taken a such a rash beating in the past years that we get all excited when things are decided in favor of the law.
(I added the "such a" to make it more grammatically correct with the "that we..." though there are other ways of phrasing this).

Hope this helps. Now, Mods, do your job and mod me down with all of your hatred (for being off-topic).

Disclaimer: this post has not been check for its own grammar mistakes. Real grammar Nazis, do your worst!

Re:OT: being a grammar Nazi. ;-) (1)

Pogue Mahone (265053) | about 9 years ago | (#13737704)

Disclaimer: this post has not been check for its own grammar mistakes. Real grammar Nazis, do your worst! should of course read "this post has not been checked ...". But you knew that, I'm sure ;-)

Disclaimer: thus pist has nit bin chucked fore it's own grammer mistales eyther.

;-)

Re:OT: being a grammar Nazi. ;-) (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 9 years ago | (#13737758)

Disclaimer: thus pist has nit bin chucked fore it's own grammer mistales eyther.

End their is all so know sign that you did cheque it's spelling. If you us a spelling chequer, such miss takes can knot happen, off cores. :-)

Re:Sad (1)

benjamindees (441808) | about 9 years ago | (#13737647)

has taken a rash beating in the passed (past? Could a Slashdot grammar Nazi clarify?)

The correct usage is 'past'. 'Past' is the noun, adjective, and adverb form. 'Passed' is used only as a verb. This [bartleby.com] may help. Or it may not. It's really something that just has to be memorized.

Re:Sad (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737497)

It makes me sad that this is news.

Why? If it makes you sad, don't read it. Way to make a useless post.

Re:Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737539)

Judge uses common sense when applying law. Film at 11!

Re:Sad (2, Insightful)

cybergrunt69 (730228) | about 9 years ago | (#13737555)

Actually, in today's society, it is a fairly uncommon thing for a (supposed) non geek to apply common sense in an internet/computer related case...

Re:Sad (3, Insightful)

Orgazmus (761208) | about 9 years ago | (#13737660)

Can you really call it "common" sense anymore?

Re:Sad (1)

Winkhorst (743546) | about 9 years ago | (#13738296)

I suspect the "common" in "common sense" refers to its nonacademic, nonintellectual nature rather than its widespread existence. How often it actually appears is a function of the "sense" part, which, unfortunately, is all too rare these days.

Re:Sad (2, Insightful)

prefect42 (141309) | about 9 years ago | (#13738309)

"Le sens commun n'est pas si commun." so said Voltaire

Re:Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13738071)

Actually, in today's society, it is a fairly uncommon thing for a (supposed) non geek to apply common sense in an internet/computer related case...

But it did take a bit of Common Sense [wikipedia.org] to found our country.

Re:Sad (5, Insightful)

shbazjinkens (776313) | about 9 years ago | (#13737559)

Slander is considered an abuse of free speech and will get you in trouble whether political or personal. The case wasn't whether the blogger had a right to free speech, but to anonymity. We aren't constitutionally guaranteed anonymity, as we're expected to take responsibility for what we say. This is news because typically people are held responsible for slander and the consequences can be costly.

I'm glad anonymity won, but I don't know if I'd feel the same way if some anonymous ass was slandering me on a popular website and people were believing it. It's a career killer for professional politicians, especially on the local level.

Re:Sad (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737664)

I'm glad anonymity won, but I don't know if I'd feel the same way if some anonymous ass was slandering me on a popular website

That's about what I'd expect from a cock-sucking asswipe such as yourself. When did you stop beating your wife? PS - I'm glad your crack habit doesn't keep you from molesting young boys.

Re:Sad (0, Offtopic)

lifeblender (806214) | about 9 years ago | (#13737699)

I hope people realize that the parent is a joke.

Re:Sad (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737942)

Yeah, because he said popular website and this is Slashdot.

Re:Sad (1)

j.bellone (684938) | about 9 years ago | (#13738127)

Heh. Miller. Good Call.

Re:Sad (2, Funny)

chenjeru (916013) | about 9 years ago | (#13738351)

Since when was this a popular website?

Re:Sad (1)

timmarhy (659436) | about 9 years ago | (#13737703)

"we're expected to take responsibility for what we say."

so when can we start applying that to the millions of rip of ads out there claiming all kinds of shit.

Re:Sad (1)

Fred_A (10934) | about 9 years ago | (#13737800)

Don't be silly, that wouldn't maximize shareholder value.

Corporations have the same rights as people, but you can't expect them to have the same responsabilities.

Re:Sad (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about 9 years ago | (#13737742)

I'm glad anonymity won, but I don't know if I'd feel the same way if some anonymous ass was slandering me on a popular website and people were believing it. It's a career killer for professional politicians, especially on the local level.

What needs to happen is for society at large to get a sort of karma-system for anonymous libel - so that AC's get less credence than those who put their name to their words. Taking away anonymity has all kinds of bad consquences, while ignoring anonymous libel just requires a thinking populace. I guess anonymity is doomed in the USA...

Re:Sad (2, Insightful)

Pieroxy (222434) | about 9 years ago | (#13737859)

What is needed is a much better system than that. People will eventually become aware that blindly trusting anything anonymous is just plain stupid. This is a question of educating the population, and that usually takes a few generations. Patience will pay, I believe.

Re:Sad (1)

xSauronx (608805) | about 9 years ago | (#13738139)

over the last several thousand years, people have yet to be aware that blindly trusting anything anonymous is just plain stupid. people believe all sorts of stupid things, and will continue to do so; i should hardly expect otherwise and i think youre setting yourself up for disappointment by doing so yourself.

Re:Sad (2, Insightful)

indifferent children (842621) | about 9 years ago | (#13738311)

But this is a different kind of anonymity. This blogger wasn't anonymous like an AC, he was anonymous like Pieroxy. He had published his blog consistently under one name at one address (ok, so I am assuming this), and his track record of writings was available for review, just like a non-AC /. user. The only reason that we consider him anonymous, is because we don't have his meat-space name, and couldn't find him in the big blue room.

Anonymity (5, Informative)

YouTalkinToMe (559217) | about 9 years ago | (#13737753)

> ...will get you in trouble whether political or personal.

It makes a big difference, whether it is political or personal.

From the Electronic Privacy Information Center Archive (see http://www.epic.org/free_speech/default.html#anony mity [epic.org] for more info)

"Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority ... It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation--and their ideas from suppression--at the hand of an intolerant society."

In three cases, spanning from 1960 to 1999, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the principle that sacrificing anonymity "might deter perfectly peaceful discussions of public matters of importance."

Anonymity--the ability to conceal one's identity while communicating--enables the expression of political ideas, participation in the government process, membership in political associations, and the practice of religious belief without fear of government intimidation or public retaliation.

Disclosure laws have been upheld only where there is a compelling government interest at stake, such as assuring the integrity of the election process by requiring campaign contribution disclosures.

Re:Sad (2, Insightful)

wcbarksdale (621327) | about 9 years ago | (#13737766)

The Supreme Court has held that non-defamatory anonymous speech is constitutionally protected (see McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission). In the article, the court ruled that the statements made by the bloggers were clearly opinions, which can't ever be defamatory.

Re:Sad (5, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | about 9 years ago | (#13737771)

We aren't constitutionally guaranteed anonymity, as we're expected to take responsibility for what we say.

I have every right to publish a pamphlet or newspaper article and not put my real name to it, and distribute at will.

In fact, that's exactly what the authors of The Federalist Papers did. That is, in fact, why they are refered to as The Federalist Papers.

I may not have a Constitutional protection of anonimty, but I have every Constitutional right to publish anonymously.

You do not have a Constitutional right to the identity of an author, and hence the protection of anonymity comes about left handedly. This is by design, just as the Fourth Ammendment exists because it was recongnized that the governement would, sooner or later, pass illegal and offensive laws, but would be prevented the legal means of enforcing them.

The very reason the government has tried so hard, and so successfully, to nullify it.

Now they're moving on to nullifying the first.

KFG

Re:Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737812)

It might be a career killer but if the said polititian had kept a blog in the first place just explaining what he was doing, his political views, etc... he would have been able to easily debunk those claims and he wouldn't even have to do a thing, although a link helps :). I really wish more politicians at the local level would do this. It would be easy to say, "hey I'm focusing on cleaning up the city, housing the homeless, and keeping your kids off crack. This is what I've done to help." I guess it would be against a politicians nature to actually take a stand though.

Re:Sad (5, Insightful)

Hosiah (849792) | about 9 years ago | (#13737881)

I don't know if I'd feel the same way if some anonymous ass was slandering me on a popular website and people were believing it. It's a career killer for professional politicians,

But the nut of the matter is: Politicians have power. So, the powerless have a right to openly criticize them. The powerfull have the right to live and conduct themselves in such an honerable way that nobody would believe their critics. Otherwise, every time Jay Leno or David Letterman makes a wisecrack about the Chief, they'd be liable. But a person in power affects all of our lives, so we have to be able to discuss it openly amongst ourselves.

Re:Sad (1)

iamplasma (189832) | about 9 years ago | (#13738056)

But the nut of the matter is: Politicians have power. So, the powerless have a right to openly criticize them. The powerfull have the right to live and conduct themselves in such an honerable way that nobody would believe their critics.
How does this extend to "blatantly lying about the guy then hiding behind anonymity to get away with it". If it was the truth or a genuine opinion being told, then sure, he has every right to remain discuss it all he wants, and I believe stay anonymous, but I don't really see how that should extend to making stuff up about people. I mean, in what way does the ability to make and spread lies help anyone?

Otherwise, every time Jay Leno or David Letterman makes a wisecrack about the Chief, they'd be liable.
Umm... not really, that's a joke, and plainly not an assertion of an actual fact, so it can't really be defamatory. Banning falsehoods doesn't have to affect people joking or whistleblowing. (though by the look of things, this precise case here was one where the statements were found to be opinions, not facts, and so were legitimate, but it doesn't change the basic principle that an actual defamer should be liable)

Re:Sad (1)

RickySan (887756) | about 9 years ago | (#13737940)

Slander is considered an abuse of free speech It's not free speech then is it, free speech is being able to say what you want to say, whenever and where-ever, that includes slander as well, cause it's free speech remember?!, oh yeah forgot, no such thing as free speech in the states, it's just a phrase..

Re:Sad (1)

Moflamby-2042 (919990) | about 9 years ago | (#13737949)

Wouldn't this be a great area to use a login / moderation system, (meta-moderated) based on a kind of trust factor and correctness of what's said?
 
Someone who tells the truth consistently carries more influence, but if they start spewing false slanderous things and others know it, then their believability and influence drops like a rock. Couldn't people then say what they want whenever they want anonymously (person behind login protected); liable/slander troubles relegated to the past?

Re:Sad (1)

Trailwalker (648636) | about 9 years ago | (#13738014)

It's a career killer for professional politicians, especially on the local level.
Good.

Re:Sad (4, Informative)

thebdj (768618) | about 9 years ago | (#13738120)

Actually anonymity did not exactly win. The case has been remanded back to the lower court. The argument before the DE Supreme Court was that the individuals in question did not establish a prima facia case and that the judge over the case used a very relaxed standard that did not provide proper first ammendment protection. Based from what I heard this site was saying, I would not be too surprised in the end if the bloggers get unmasked. Of course, in order for that to happen the people behind this will have to continue the case, but I cannot see why they wouldn't if they have gone this far.

Re:Sad (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | about 9 years ago | (#13738383)

We aren't constitutionally guaranteed anonymity,

Yeah, I missed the bus on that one too, but it sure seemed to play the central role here. The logic seems to be that if one fears reprisal of a libel suit, that it will have the famous "chilling effect" on speech? Isn't that the...point of libel laws? That people will actually think about what they're about to write before they write it?

Freedom of Speech ... (1)

Agarax (864558) | about 9 years ago | (#13737569)

... isn't a carte blanche for slander and libel [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Freedom of Speech ... (1)

Skye16 (685048) | about 9 years ago | (#13738027)

Then maybe you should straight up say that when talking about it?

Some Degree of Freedom of Speech, for example, would make me feel a lot better, and it'll stop confusing the kids, too.

Re:Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737587)

"First Amendment right to speak anonymously"


I'm curious. Do we really have a constitutional right to "Speak Anonymously", or just a right to speak? I understand the right of someone being able to speak without fear of the government opression, but where in the constitution does it guarantee anonymous speech?

Re:Sad (5, Insightful)

larry bagina (561269) | about 9 years ago | (#13737679)

where in the constitution does it guarantee anonymous speech?

Wrong question. The Constitution enumerates the powers that the gov't has; it is not a list of restrictions. The correct question is, "where in the Constitution is Congress granted the authority to regulate speech?".

Re:Sad (1)

Fred_A (10934) | about 9 years ago | (#13737811)

Sounds like a good way to simplify your legislation though : if it isn't clearly allowed in the constitution, then it's illegal. ;)

Re:Sad (1)

Winkhorst (743546) | about 9 years ago | (#13738349)

Was it "1984" where everything that wasn't illegal was mandatory? Or is that just a general way of describing the standard fascist police state? The fact is that you can leaflet cars on a parking lot without fear of reprisal and all this decision does is extend that ability to a medium where there is a technical method for destroying that anonimity. What they are basically saying is, "You can't spy on people because they didn't give away their identity." This is certainly a privacy issue, one of those rights not specifically allocated in the Bill of Rights but referred to in the clause that says that the Bill of Rights does not exclude any other rights commonly possessed by free people.

Re:Sad (4, Informative)

CTachyon (412849) | about 9 years ago | (#13737757)

While no right to anonymous speech is spelled out in the Constitution or its Amendments, I would imagine that the founding fathers thought that anonymity was trivially implied by "[not] abridging the freedom of speech", since a law requiring "eunymity" of unpopular political speech effectively bans that speech. (Think Communist speech in the McCarthy era. Regardless of where one stands on the idea itself, Communist speech is protected by the First Amendment.)

The Founders themselves made heavy use of the anonymous pen name Publius when writing The Federalist Papers [ou.edu] -- essentially an ad campaign for our current Constitution -- so it's easy to see where they stood on the subject when they wrote the Constitution.

Re:Sad (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 9 years ago | (#13738370)

There is, however, a difference between publishing a political opinion or philosophical paper and publishing a libelous one. The second deserves no such protection as it is an active attack against a fellow citizen.

Huzzah!! (5, Insightful)

dustinbarbour (721795) | about 9 years ago | (#13737483)

It pleases me to know that there are judges out there in tune with the Internet, who know what it is, what it represents, and recognize it for the "unique democratizing medium" that it is. These days seem rampant with politicians, judges, and CEOs all interpreting in favor of the bigger guys. The recent rulings against the RIAA and cases such as this one begin to restore my faith in the American judicial system. We've still got a way to go and the system will never be perfect, but at least there is a glimmer.

Re:Huzzah!! (1)

bersl2 (689221) | about 9 years ago | (#13737549)

The phrase "unique democratizing medium" makes me tingly inside.

Right to post anonymously? (1)

CountBrass (590228) | about 9 years ago | (#13737618)

I'm surprised the judge asserted the blogger had the right to post anonymously.

But that aside: if you've got something to say have the guts to put your name to it. If you're not then perhaps you shouldn't be saying it? How do we know this blogger isn't simply lying? Or is an estranged mistress with a grudge? Or is a political opponent?

If the blogger is concerned about reprisals or being sued for defamation then I can't see how that's a defence. If they should be allowed to say whatever it is then the law should protect them and defamation suits shouldn't be possible. That's where they should receive the courts protection. If they're restricted in what they can say (defamation for example) then they should have to take the consequences of their actions and not be allowed to hide behind their anonymity.

Re:Right to post anonymously? (2, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 9 years ago | (#13737825)

The courts aint going to protect you from getting "wacked" by a crooked public official.

Re:Right to post anonymously? (3, Insightful)

BVis (267028) | about 9 years ago | (#13738419)

If the blogger is concerned about reprisals or being sued for defamation then I can't see how that's a defence. If they should be allowed to say whatever it is then the law should protect them and defamation suits shouldn't be possible.
And in theory communism works, too. The real world works differently. Those with the resources to hire dozens of high-priced lawyers to file lawsuits can crush those who do not have those resources into settling an obviously meritless case (the most relevant current example being Stupid RIAA Tricks).

There's also the "no man is an island" factor. Say enough unpopular things and you'll soon find yourself unpopular; while in high school all that got you was a wedgie, in the real world it will keep you from earning a living. Speaking your mind may be your right, but take into account that companies don't like to hire/do business with people who are controversial, no matter what particular politics or topics are involved; it's bad for business. Plus most employers have the attitude that they own your opinions 24/7 because they pay you a salary; say disparaging things about the people who sign your checks (regardless of whether they're based in provable fact or are only opinion and represented as such) and you'll soon stop collecting them. IMHO not fair, or right, but that's how it is.

I Welcome our court-reversing overlords (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737492)

na

Good call with limits (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737509)

So long as it doesn't cross the line to outright slanderous speech I completely agree. The issue becomes if people are free to anonymously post false claims what is to stop one political party from posting false statements about an opponent in an election anonymously? Say one party starts posting on blogs that the other cannidate is a child molester? The statement is untrue but swings an election. Slander doesn't fall under free speech and shouldn't be protected on the internet. Otherwise the internet needs to remain free. It may be the last place you can make your views known without fear of reprisals.

Re:Good call with limits (2, Informative)

Winkhorst (743546) | about 9 years ago | (#13738395)

How do you breath with all that sand up your nose?

The current crop of political bozos in Washington got there by using a whole arsenal of the tools you have just described, down to a telephone campaign in West Virginia that said that the main primary opposition candidate had a black baby out of wedlock, when in fact he had adopted a Bangladeshi child. Why were these folks not indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned? What's good for the politicians isn't good for the people? You are a sad case, Sir.

Overreaction in the first place (5, Insightful)

mrpostal (840460) | about 9 years ago | (#13737518)

In a series of obscenity-laced tirades, the bloggers, among other things, pointed to Cahill's "obvious mental deterioration," and made several sexual references about him and his wife, including using the name "Gahill" to suggest that Cahill, who has publicly feuded with Smyrna Mayor Mark Schaeffer, is homosexual.

Article above In two messages from September of 2004, Proud Citizen discussed a member of the Smyrna Town Council, Patrick Cahill, referring to Cahill's "character flaws," "mental deterioration," and "failed leadership," and stated that "Gahill [sic] is...paranoid."

EFF Article [eff.org]

One article makes it sound like its teenagers calling each other fags, and the other points to actual political opinions.

Either way, this is how NOT to react. Don't these people know how to take anything lightly?

The judge was wrong and so are you. (-1, Flamebait)

CountBrass (590228) | about 9 years ago | (#13737632)

I'm sorry but you're wrong. We have defamation laws for a reason: to protect people from the real damage these kinds of antics can do. What is a politician without reputation? The blog is obviously designed to damage this politician and in such a way as to maximise the audience. The judge was wrong, "Proud Citizen" should have been exposed and made to pay the price for his slander.

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (5, Insightful)

Hope Thelps (322083) | about 9 years ago | (#13737655)

The judge was wrong

Judges, not judge. Judges of the State Supreme Court.

Okay, so you're saying that the Supreme Court of Delaware was wrong on a point of law with regard to the State of Delaware. Are you going to cite any precedents at all to support that or are you just claiming to out-expert them?

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (0)

CountBrass (590228) | about 9 years ago | (#13738205)

You know there is a difference between "lawful" and "right", "unlawful" and "wrong" don't you? The judgeS were wrong.

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (3, Insightful)

Hope Thelps (322083) | about 9 years ago | (#13738320)

You know there is a difference between "lawful" and "right", "unlawful" and "wrong" don't you? The judgeS were wrong.

The judges either applied the law correctly or else they did not. It is possible that the law could do with being amended but that does not mean that a judge correctly applying the law as it stands is "wrong". That's just gibberish.

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 9 years ago | (#13738420)

No, it's the difference between law and morality. It is wrong to hang homosexuals, but in Iran it's legal.

This is an example, it is only an example and not meant to construe equality between it and the current discussion.

That is a false analogy (2, Insightful)

brokeninside (34168) | about 9 years ago | (#13738467)

And its shifting the goal posts as well. Even if the law is morally wrong, it does not necessarily follow that a judge upholding that law is morally wrong in doing so. One could, quite sensibly, argue that in most cases it is morally wrong for judges not to uphold laws that they think are immoral as judges are charged with upholding the law, not with judging morals.

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13738493)

and be that as it may, it isn't the judge's job to assert his/her moral authority and legislate from the bench. Their job is to interpet the law as is.
And the supreme court here, interpreted it as a protector of anonymity.
if the law is judged to be morally abhorent by the public in large, then congress is the institution we should be declaring as being in the right or the wrong, and as such should force them to change the law. Not the bench.

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (1)

justforaday (560408) | about 9 years ago | (#13738404)

Wow! Can I have you represent me next time I need to go to court?

"I'm sorry Your Honor, but you're just plain wrong, because I think you're wrong."

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (1)

The Wooden Badger (540258) | about 9 years ago | (#13737739)

I have to ask what is the real damage that is caused by the blogs? After RTFA it appears to me that the postings in question are part of a newspaper website article discussion. I wouldn't exactly call that a blog, unless slashdot is also a blog. I don't know of any material damage that could ever be caused by slashdot posters, and even less so of anonymous posters on a newspaper website. I would say that the Bush administration has a better case for slander almost any time a Democrat Representative or Senator appears on Meet the Press and criticizes ability. Bush has more of a slander case against Green Day for the American Idiot album.

I think this is just another sad case of someone thinking the internet is a threat to their "business" and think they can sue ISP's into doing the legwork of their case for them a la RIAA and P2Pers. If the judges are indeed wrong and the US Supreme Court agrees with you then every poster here needs to worry about what they say in the hallowed halls of slashdot.org.

I have the answer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737785)

Q: "What is a politician without reputation? "

A: "Typical"

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (1)

wcbarksdale (621327) | about 9 years ago | (#13737819)

Defamation and slander are not terms that are applicable to opinions.

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13738315)

If they were only applicable to facts then they wouldn't exist in the first place.

Surely by definition they are only applicable to opinions.

Actually, you are wrong. (2, Insightful)

brunes69 (86786) | about 9 years ago | (#13738302)

Slander \Slan"der\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Slandered}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Slandering}.] 1. To defame; to injure by maliciously uttering a false report; to tarnish or impair the reputation of by false tales maliciously told or propagated; to calumniate.
The actual comments were...
"character flaws," "mental deterioration," and "failed leadership," and stated that "Gahill [sic] is...paranoid."

The comments he used are so vague, no lawyer would ever take this to court, because they would surely lose against any halfway-competant defence. Everyone has character flaws. Everyone over 30 could easily be shown to have some measure of "mental deterioration", all they would have to do is ask them some trivial fact about last year that they would not remember. As for "failed leadership", that is also open to interpertation.

In order to make a case for slander, the comments have top be false. There is absolutely no way you could prove or disprove that with these comments.

Re:The judge was wrong and so are you. (2, Funny)

indifferent children (842621) | about 9 years ago | (#13738324)

What is a politician without reputation?

A politician.

Huzzah! (5, Funny)

jettoki (894493) | about 9 years ago | (#13737538)

And then, a million bloggers rose in triumphant jubilation, only to sit back down panting heavily.

Re:Huzzah! (0)

dustinbarbour (721795) | about 9 years ago | (#13737583)

Hey.. You stole my subject line! Linkage. [slashdot.org]

fair use (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737552)

By RANDALL CHASE
Associated Press Writer

DOVER, Del.

In a decision hailed by free-speech advocates, the Delaware Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a lower court decision requiring an Internet service provider to disclose the identity of an anonymous blogger who targeted a local elected official.

In a 34-page opinion, the justices said a Superior Court judge should have required Smyrna town councilman Patrick Cahill to make a stronger case that he and his wife, Julia, had been defamed before ordering Comcast Cable Communications to disclose the identities of four anonymous posters to a blog site operated by Independent Newspapers Inc., publisher of the Delaware State News.

In a series of obscenity-laced tirades, the bloggers, among other things, pointed to Cahill's "obvious mental deterioration," and made several sexual references about him and his wife, including using the name "Gahill" and "CmdrTaco" to suggest that Cahill, who has publicly feuded with Smyrna Mayor Mark Schaeffer, is homosexual.

In June, the lower court judge ruled that the Cahills had established a "good faith basis" for contending that they were victims of defamation and affirmed a previous order for Comcast to disclose the bloggers' identities.

One of the bloggers, referred to in court papers only as John Doe No. 1 and his blog name, "Proud Citizen," challenged the ruling, arguing that the Cahills should have been required to establish a prima facie case of defamation before seeking disclosure of the defendants' identities.

The Supreme Court agreed, reversing and remanding the case to Superior Court with an order to dismiss the Cahills' claims.

"Because the trial judge applied a standard insufficiently protective of Doe's First Amendment right to speak anonymously, we reverse that judgment," Chief Justice Myron Steele wrote.

Steele described the Internet as a "unique democratizing medium unlike anything that has come before," and said anonymous speech in blogs and chat rooms in some instances can become the modern equivalent of political pamphleteering. Accordingly, a plaintiff claiming defamation should be required to provide sufficient evidence to overcome a defendant's motion for summary judgment before a court orders the disclosure of a blogger's identity.

"We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential child molesters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously," Steele wrote. "The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all."

The standard adopted by the court, the first state Supreme Court in the country to consider the issue, is based on a 2000 New Jersey court ruling.

Under the standard adopted by the Supreme Court, a plaintiff must first try to notify the anonymous poster that he is the subject of subpoena or request for a court to disclose his identity, allowing the poster time to oppose the request. The plaintiff would then have to provide prima facie evidence of defamation strong enough to overcome a summary judgment motion.

"The decision of the Supreme Court helps provide protection for anonymous bloggers and anonymous speakers in general from lawsuits which have little or no merit and are filed solely to intimidate the speaker or suppress the speech," said David Finger, a Wilmington attorney representing John Doe No. 1.

"Delaware cases are generally respected in other states, and we'll have to see if this trend continues with these types of lawsuits, but I expect the decision of the Delaware Supreme Court to be influential," Finger added.

Robert Katzenstein, a lawyer representing the Cahills, did not immediately return a telephone message left at his home.

"This is the first state Supreme Court to squarely decide the standards to govern John Doe subpoena cases," said Paul Alan Levy, an attorney for Public Citizen, a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, who helped argue the case for John Doe No. 1. "The court's determination to require sufficient evidence before a critic is outed will go a long way toward reassuring citizens that they remain free to anonymously criticize public officials."

Steele noted in his opinion that plaintiffs in such cases can use the Internet to respond to character attacks and "generally set the record straight," and that, as in Cahill's case, blogs and chatrooms tend to be vehicles for people to express opinions, not facts.

"Given the context, no reasonable person could have interpreted these statements as being anything other than opinion. ... The statements are, therefore, incapable of a defamatory meaning," he wrote.

Why is this news?? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737556)

This really shouldn't be news. The whole thing against the blogger is stupid. It's like saying you'd sue someone who was spouting crap in speaker's corner - if that were the case what would be the point in speaker's corner?????

Re:Why is this news?? (2, Interesting)

meringuoid (568297) | about 9 years ago | (#13737981)

It's like saying you'd sue someone who was spouting crap in speaker's corner - if that were the case what would be the point in speaker's corner?????

I've often wondered, but never actually bothered to look up: what IS the deal with Speakers' Corner? For those who don't know, it's a place in one of London's parks where people with axes to grind traditionally get up on their soapboxes to harangue the passers-by. I seem to remember hearing that there was some old mediaeval law protecting absolutely their right to do so - this from way back when free speech was something of a rarity - but I'm not certain of this.

Basically, is it still slander if you say it at Speakers' Corner? I know that what is said inside Parliament is immune to these laws, and I'm wondering if the same applies here.

Re:Why is this news?? (1)

z0idberg (888892) | about 9 years ago | (#13738474)

Its not so much what was said but the anonimity that was in question. Speakers corner is not the same thing as it would be pretty hard to stand on your soap box and speak your views while still staying anonymous.

Slashdot effect=40,000 visitors a blog says. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737576)

The slashdot effect now finally has a number on it due to a blog's stats:

40,000 visitors [problogger.net] to be exact.

Finally... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737579)

Someone in the mental picture of "goverment" who actually stands up for the constitution instead of trying to circumvent it.
We need more of these guys.

Cheers

Judge Steele??? (5, Funny)

ferrellcat (691126) | about 9 years ago | (#13737584)

Damn, just his name alone makes him someone I wouldn't want to fuck with. I wonder if he has his own TV show.

NEXT, ON JUDGE STEELE...

Re:Judge Steele??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737846)

Yeah, he could be on right after Extreme Akim. http://www.eyeforaneyetv.com/ [eyeforaneyetv.com]

Re:Judge Steele??? (1)

Comboman (895500) | about 9 years ago | (#13738431)

Sylvester Stalone as JUDGE STEELE:

"I am da law!"

Re:Judge Steele??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13738441)

Judge Steal?

Re:Judge Steele??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13738496)

Likely a former porn actor. "My name is Steele. Rod Steele".

I for one say (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737589)

Fuck yeah!

what right? (5, Interesting)

calyptos (752073) | about 9 years ago | (#13737593)

I can't find anything in the first amendment which addresses a right to speak anonymously.

Although I do agree with the court ruling.

Re:what right? (4, Informative)

Davorama (11731) | about 9 years ago | (#13737677)

Yeah, I didn't know about that either. An explaination is here. [cornell.edu] It appears to have to do with not supressing free speach in the form of leaflets.

Re:what right? (4, Informative)

np_bernstein (453840) | about 9 years ago | (#13737685)

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

There is not enumerated right to privacy either, but many, if not most, constitutional scholors agree that the right to privacy is indeed a right.

Re:what right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737754)

This is one area where many people misunderstand the Constitution, and it's a subtle but important difference between the constitution of the U.S. as opposed to those of most other countries. The U.S. Constitution is written with the implicit assumption that everything is a right and then goes on to enumerate where, when and how the government may curtail those rights. Just because something isn't spelled out as a right, doesn't mean it isn't. I love when people say intentionally ridiculous sounding things like "The Constitution doesn't guarantee your right to drive a car" or "The Constitution doesn't guarantee your right to be married." Yes, it does actually.

Re:what right? (1)

calyptos (752073) | about 9 years ago | (#13737913)

Just because something isn't spelled out as a right, doesn't mean it isn't.

Yes, and I have the right to pee on you while singing Marry had a Little Lamb...

Don't think so.

Re:what right? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737962)

No, you do not. Once you pee on him then you have assaulted him and being that pee is a bodily fluid then it might be considered a "deadly weapon" [google.com] in some states. This [google.com] could provide you something to read while you practice your rendition of "Mary had a little lamb". One of the oldest premises in law is that "your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins" [google.com] .

Apologies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737992)

Apologies to the grandparent which was the parent to my former comment, the parent of this comment. I wasn't browsing the article low enough and mistook your comment for a comment to the great great grandparent and had not as yet browsed to the great grandparent. However the great grandparent is correct in some respects, just because a right is not enumerated doesn't mean it is not a right, however it can be restricted from the standpoint of how it interferes with the rights of others.

Re:what right? (2, Funny)

indifferent children (842621) | about 9 years ago | (#13738331)

Yes, and I have the right to pee on you while singing Marry had a Little Lamb...

You can pee on him while singing Ring Around the Rosy or Greensleeves, but Mary had a Little Lamb and Happy Birthday are copyrighted. Good luck.

Re:what right? (4, Insightful)

rgoldste (213339) | about 9 years ago | (#13738318)

You have to stop construing the First Amendment as granting you rights. That kind of thinking almost led to the rejection of the Bill of Rights in the first place. James Madison once said [findlaw.com] : ''It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against."

That guard is the Ninth Amendment. The correct interpretation of the Constitution, then, is that you have boatloads of natural rights, and the Constitution protects them all; certain rights explicitly protected just have greater weight when rights conflict. When a court recognizes a right, they're not being "judicial activists" at all, they're keeping well within the intent of the Framers.

Re:what right? (1)

hamburger lady (218108) | about 9 years ago | (#13738386)

the bill of rights doesn't bestow rights upon the people, it states what particular rights the government is diswallowed/limited from infringing. the bill of rights doesn't mention the right to yell 'goal!' at a football match either.

Title dyslexia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13737617)

I first read "Court Rules in Favor of Annoying Blogger."

Re:Title dyslexia (1, Funny)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 9 years ago | (#13737736)

Do you mean that the blogger is annoying, or that the court favours annoying him?

Re:Title dyslexia (0, Offtopic)

iTauro (921103) | about 9 years ago | (#13737917)

One thing , Nobody can control internet !!

Glad I don't live in Delaware (1, Insightful)

panurge (573432) | about 9 years ago | (#13737778)

IANAL, but surely the First Amendment protects freedom of speech but not anonymity? First Amendment protection in effect should enable me not to need anonymity in speaking truth to power because my right to do so is protected. The laws of slander and libel can only work if the person slandering or libelling is identifiable.

If a reporter in a newspaper quotes an anonymous source and thereby commits libel, the newspaper can be sued. It seems to me the ISP is on a hiding to nothing here. If journalistic standards are applied, the owner of the website is surely a publisher not a carrier, and can be sued. If the website is the equivalent of a freely available notice board, then anybody pasting a libel on it should not expect to avoid being identified.

The initial posts seem to support the position of "Proud Citizen", but he appears to be a socially dysfunctional individual with a nasty mind. I do not see why he deserves any anonymity at all. If only so the Cahills can assert THEIR first amendment rights and say in public what they think of them.

The point is that in the US freedom of speech is protected and anonymity is not needed, whereas in China (why on Earth do we have anything to do with that scumbag government?) freedom of speech is banned and so everything should be done to protect the anonymity of legitimate critics of government.

Re:Glad I don't live in Delaware (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13738044)

But someone with more money can bankrupt you and destroy your life by putting you in a civil court case. An ordinary joe cannot bankrupt an important person, even if the accusation is right.

Go to the newspapers (1, Insightful)

panurge (573432) | about 9 years ago | (#13738177)

If the "ordinary joe" has an important piece of information that would discredit a public person, (s)he should go to the respectable Press who will investigate and publish if they and their lawyers think it justified. That's what they are for and why they have special rights. (And why it is wrong that Murdoch should be allowed to control so much of world media, but that's another issue.)

Re:Go to the newspapers (4, Insightful)

grahamm (8844) | about 9 years ago | (#13738215)

Why should the 'respectable' press have more rights than any other publisher? I may be totally wrong, but I suspect that the "press" whose freedom was enshrined in the first amendment bears little resemblance to the current media conglomerates who publish most of the newspaper, own TV stations etc. I would suggest that the modern day blog, and sites such as Slashdot are much closer to the 'press' at the time when the amendment was written than are the modern day newspapers and TV news stations.

Re:Go to the newspapers (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 9 years ago | (#13738389)

And why it is wrong that Murdoch should be allowed to control so much of world media

And what if you're trying to discredit Murdoch, or one of his pals?

I think you'll find that a monopolistic Press isn't as "respectable" as you'd like to believe.

Anonymous Posting (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13738053)

For all of you Slashdotters who have have historically ( I assume no links are needed between gentlemen here on this subject? ) assaulted the AC's posts merely because they were posted as AC let this article be a reminder that AC posting is a constitutional right that has been upheld by the Delaware Supreme Court. This is of course not to admonish you for justifiable assault on poor comments and err *cough* flamebait.
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