Danielle Citron gives a shoutout to a proposed bill that would allow some – but not all – victims of harassment or abuse to sue pseudoanonymously:
Hawaii’s proposed Senate Bill 288, if enacted, could be invoked to combat this problem when the online harassment occurs in domestic abuse cases. The bill would permit pseudonymous papers “in cases of alleged domestic abuse where the alleged victim has already received an order of protection, temporary restraining order, or protective order against the accused party.” The bill covers cases where pseudonymous filing is “reasonably necessary to protect the privacy of the alleged victim and will not unduly prejudice the prosecution of the defense.” The proposed legislation permits victims of domestic abuse, including cases involving online harassment, to bring law’s coercive power to bear against perpetrators. Because the bill allows courts to weigh the victim’s interest in privacy against the public’s interest in disclosure, it aims to protect privacy and transparency. Disappointingly, however, the bill only covers cases involving domestic abuse, thus failing to reach instances of online harassment involving privacy invasions where victims may refuse to sue their attackers for fear of publicity.
Read more on Concurring Opinions.
While Danielle is primarily focused on the targets of online harassment in her post, I would go even further, as I think that plaintiffs should be able to file anonymously or pseudoanonymously in some situations that involve privacy or speech rights. Similarly, I think the anonymity or pseudoanonymity of defendants should be protected in certain cases.
Given the pervasive nature of the Internet and the lasting harm that can accrue, it’s time to really look at whether the public’s right to know or need to know extends to the identity of a party to an action or just to the issue raised in a case. In cases where one of the parties is not a public figure and their identity might be only a matter of public curiosity as opposed to legitimate public concern, why not allow the lawsuit to proceed pseudoanonymously to its conclusion?
I realize that the presumption is always for transparency, but given the potential for lasting harm, maybe it’s time to reconsider how sweeping we want that presumption to be.