EFF shares the excellent outcome in a case that I’ve been covering on this blog since October 2009 (previous coverage linked from here):
The Illinois Court of Appeals today overturned a lower court ruling that had ordered the disclosure of the identity of an anonymous online critic of a political candidate, ruling that the First Amendment prevented such “fishing expeditions” undertaken by “those easily offended by online commentary.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) at Yale Law School filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. While defamatory or other actionable speech may allow for the unmasking of an online speaker, EFF and MFIA argued that the First Amendment requires a heightened standard for unmasking anonymous speakers in order to protect robust debate — political or otherwise.
The Court today reversed that lower court’s opinion, articulating the First Amendment interests at stake: “While the law is clear that there is no right to defame another citizen, we cannot condone the inevitable fishing expeditions that would ensue were the trial court’s order to be upheld. Encouraging those easily offended by online commentary to sue to find the name of their ‘tormenters’ would surely lead to unnecessary litigation and would also have a chilling effect on the many citizens who choose to post anonymously on the countless comment boards for newspapers, magazines, websites and other information portals. Putting publishers and website hosts in the position of being a ‘cyber-nanny’ is a noxious concept that offends our country’s long history of protecting anonymous speech.”
Read more on EFF.