This is the third case in as many years that we can find where an Illinois Judge has forced the disclosure of User Names and Contact information related to comments posted on a Newspaper Website.
In all three cases the anonymity of the users was seen as less important then the the right for an aggrieved party to seek a civil judgment against someone who made a comment on a site where they assumed their privacy would be protected.
The cases include both defamation of a commercial business and individuals.
None of the cases included online threats of violence or other illegal acts.
This is a serious matter because although no one on the internet is completely anonymous we expect our Internet Connection Providers and the websites we visit especially a News Agency site to protect our first amendment right to free speech and often in order to voice our opinions we need to remain anonymous.
Lets face it most people are not willing to talk about drugs or crime in their neighborhood, a politician that is not doing the will of the people or a business that may be treating their customers unfairly if it means they will be faced with attack lawsuits to stifle the speech.
If a handful of these cases go undefended there is a very real possibility that the freedom to speak your mind online as you may with a poster at a rally will come to an end.
Can you imagine Police Officers collecting the names of every person at a rally?
Can you imagine bumper stickers protesting a group being reason for a policeman to pull you over and collect your name or track you through your license plate?
Free Speech sometimes requires anonymity for the simple reason that the weaker person who is being attacked needs to voice their concern in the public place without further attacks rather then resorting to other methods of righting a wrong.
Again we are not talking about illegal actions by any of the commenter s on these news sites we are talking about disagreements of facts.
If a person is truly being defamed or slandered inaccurately in a serious and not off color way then the site has the ability to delete that user’s account and their comments. Then put up a statement by the other party.
However to release everyone’s names and contact information to police when many people may have had nothing to do with the defamatory statements is far overboard.
It has always been my suggestion that if you need to keep your privacy then do not share personal information online when signing up for website access. If you are limited by user agreements then find another venue that will allow you to remain private when posting comments..
But remember if our courts allow it everyone can be tracked back on the internet even if you use proxies or other methods… It is just how it is.. computers need locations to transmit data accurately or when you open your browser and surf the web you would be seeing what your neighbor is looking at…