Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Students at Pope John XIII Regional High School in Sparta, New Jersey have been told to "dismantle" any personal web sites which contain profiles or identifying information. Those who don't will be suspended. The order affects students with accounts on popular sites such as MySpace and Xanga. While the students complain that an order which so broadly affects their personal, non-school related life is a violation of their constitutional free speech protections, experts argue the private nature of the school makes the action legal, if ill-advised.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

In March, former Best Buy employee Greg Schaffter was sentenced to three years in prison for cyberstalking. As a computer technician for the store, he apparently accessed customers' personal information and harassed at least one woman with emails, threatening phone calls and explicit photos.

Now that woman, Nicole Christopoulos, is suing Best Buy, saying that they should have never hired Schaffter, particularly since he "has a lengthy criminal history, with arrests for deceptive practices and forgery, and several orders of protection were filed against him".

Monday, October 17, 2005

Groklaw has an article following up on the recent decision by the Delaware Supreme Court protecting the right to anonymous speech. Of particular note is how the court chose a higher standard of free speech protection than the Superior court judge. In this case the Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff must establish a "prima facie" case for defamation before seeking the identities of the anonymous commenter.

A defamation plaintiff, particularly a public figure, obtains a very important form of relief by unmasking the identity of his anonymous critics. The revelation of identity of an anonymous speaker "may subject [that speaker] to ostracism for expressing unpopular ideas, invite retaliation from those who oppose her ideas or from those whom she criticizes, or simply give unwanted exposure to her mental processes." ... After obtaining the identity of an anonymous critic through the compulsory discovery process, a defamation plaintiff who either loses on the merits or fails to pursue a lawsuit is still free to engage in extra-judicial self-help remedies; more bluntly, the plaintiff can simply seek revenge or retribution.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that many defamation plaintiffs bring suit merely to unmask the identities of anonymous critics. As one commentator has noted, "[t]he sudden surge in John Doe suits stems from the fact that many defamation actions are not really about money." "The goals of this new breed of libel action are largely symbolic, the primary goal being to silence John Doe and others like him." This "sue first, ask questions later" approach, coupled with a standard only minimally protective of the anonymity of defendants, will discourage debate on important issues of public concern as more and more anonymous posters censor their online statements in response to the likelihood of being unmasked. . . .