Saturday, August 23, 2008

Right of Anonymity vs. Right of Full Disclosure

Since I have been finding a particular legal notice on a certain community message board of interest as it pertains to issues of law and privacy I find it necessary to do some writing on this important subject.

My first thought was that my original position on the matter was the correct one. Now after doing some more thinking on the matter and looking a little bit more into the subject in an investigatory and fact gathering capacity I find I have to give the issue a bit more thought.

The legal notice I speak of at the message board is one that notifies several board posters that they are the subject of a legal discovery of their true identities based upon something which they apparently posted at that message board.

The matter involved things which were stated about a particular employee of the town of Secaucus, New Jersey. Yet the legal discovery action has, it seems, been brought about by the town government. That might in fact play a role in just how successful or should I better say unsuccessful that town will be in prosecuting the matter in the courts.

I say that basing it upon a statement made in regard to a different but very similar case which is ongoing in New Jersey. I am using some of the comments made in that news story so as to make the point.

I provide the following comment found on NJ.Com Website for a little back story information. That article made some of the following comments which I herein quote.

{Last fall, Manalapan attorneys subpoenaed Google, insisting that the internet company reveal the name and computer behind daTruthSquad's blogging account. A state Superior Court judge eventually quashed the subpoena, calling the request "an unjust infringement on the blogger's First Amendment rights."}

From my perspective it would seem without giving it a great deal of thought that such action would be of no consequence. Continuing with my thought it might not be a simple task for the town of Secaucus to gain the information basing it upon the next paragraph from the story related to Manalapan.

{Lawrence Kleiner, Spodak's attorney, said the new lawsuit has a better chance of succeeding because the former mayor has been out of office for more than two decades and is a private citizen, not a public official. The attorney is seeking subpoenas to require internet service providers to disclose the identities of up to 100 of the former mayor's anonymous critics.} Emphasis Snake Oil Sam

The point here being that since the Secaucus issue is an action apparently being brought by the Town Government rather than the offended employee it might in fact go against the town at the level of a higher court.

I would have to question just why the Town Government is going after these anonymous individuals rather than the town employee on his own behalf. Since it is a matter of record that there is a bit of political bad blood between certain political factions one is forced to wonder if this action has a deeper and yet undisclosed agenda.

But without regard to agenda’s and possible vendettas does a town government especially one with an outstanding track record of political tension, such as Secaucus, have a legal right to expect that a third party can be coerced into providing any private identity information?

Of course you would suspect that when something which involves privacy issue arises there might be groups who would stand up in the face of governmental action. Such is the case with the Manalapan issue.

{The case has, once again, attracted the attention of national First Amendment groups.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California nonprofit group that helped defend daTruthSquad in the previous lawsuit, said it will continue to work to keep the blogger's identity secret.}

Although this particular instance involves the blogging community, for point of discussion there is really little distinction between bloggers and some who might choose for whatever the reason to make those comments on a community related message board.

I would have to believe that the laws which affect one affect the other as well. Since there is a great deal of issues to consider as we delve into the field of unintended consequences we need to be mindful of more than the simple issues of slander and libel.

There are many things about which to be concerned in this matter. One of those which got my attention while researching the Manalapan story was a quote by Matt Zimmerman who is associated with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

{"You have the constitutional right to speak anonymously," said Matt Zimmerman, an Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney. "You can't use the court as an investigatory tool simply to out critics."}

But even in light of such lucid comments I find it difficult to fully accept that you can simply make comments of an offensive nature such as the things apparently said about the former Mayor of Manalapan.

But again I could be wrong and I am certainly not the final authority on such law. I am just one humble writer and critic attempting to offer an opinion without sounding like the ultimate arbiter of journalistic prudence.

Perhaps the Town of Secaucus will find that it is not worth the money of the good taxpaying citizens to proceed with this matter in light of the fact that the Manalapan issue has already set some degree of precedent.

In addition, armed with the knowledge that an organization such as Electronic Frontier Foundation might step in and pick up the cudgel on behalf of the now anonymous posters it might give the town fathers some reason for concern and perhaps consider letting the offended party deal with the matter individually.

After all since the alleged remarks were made about a private individual, who just happens in this case to work for the town, what business is it of town government to step in and authorize the spending of town money and time seeking to find information which very well might lead to a long and expensive lawsuit.

This sounds much more like some sort of political maneuvering than it does concern over the reputation of a private individual. In any event there are far deeper issues here than any which I would have even considered without giving it a goodly degree of thought.

I sincerely hope that those of you reading this also find it beneficial to consider this most important issue as the right to speak freely affects us all.

Freedom of Speech or Death
Snake Oil Sam
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