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Google Subpoenaed for IP Addresses to Expose Identity of Anonymous Bloggers

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Distinguishing the Skanks in New York case with the TCI Journal Case is something that the press has not yet fully tackled.  In case you have not been following, there are two big news stories involving lawsuits against Google issuing subpoenas to expose the IP addresses of anonymous bloggers.

The first one is the Skanks case, which  originated from a blogger in New York. The Google blog in question was created and maintained by a fashion designer, Rosemary Port who was the sole contributor.  At one point, she used the blog to "name call" Liskula Cohen, a New York model.  Cohen sued to reveal the name of the blogger, and the New York State Supreme Court indeed issued a subpoena requiring Google to reveal the IP address and thus, the identity of the blogger.  Many legal analysts and journalists have weighed in on this case. On the one hand, many defend the anonymous blogger, crying out for protection of the First Amendment rights as well as "truth" as a defense to defamation. I suspect that Cohen is in no rush to prove whether or not she's a skank. It is also difficult to establish what exactly her monetary damages would be for being called a skank? Is she really injured by the comments?  On the other hand, there is the opinion that using the internet as an anonymous tool to harass, is akin to damaging one's identity, calling for better internet restrictions to prevent harassment.

The Skanks in New York case has been compared to another controversy, a case out of Turks and Caicos: Dr. Cem Kinay v. TCI Journal. Dr. Kinay, an entrepreneur and developer from Turkey, invested in a development project in Turks and Caicos.  It now appears that working with the then government and thus the embattled former premier, Michael Misick, put some  developers on the hot seat, even though they were acting under the color of authority in the islands.

What are the similarities in the two cases, Skanks in New York and TCI Journal? The bloggers were both accused of making anonymous verbal attacks on persons; suits were brought, and subpoenas were issued requiring Google to turn over the IP addresses of the bloggers. The similarities pretty much end there.

In the TCI case, Dr. Cem Kinay was targeted by TCI Journal, a controversial internet blog in Turks and Caicos, using accusations and innuendo to seemingly create doubt about Dr. Kinay's debuting resort. TCI Journal has been known to create anonymous names to make serious allegations against dozens of the island's developers. Hiding behind anonymous names is a tactic that TCI Journal says is necessary, due to fear of retaliation.  Despite numerous requests for comment,  Dr. Cem Kinay has maintained silence.

It appears from the actions of TCI Journal that fear is not a part of their vocabulary. Merely a quick scan of their site is telling. For example, TCI Journal posted and mocked a letter it received from one of the developer's attorneys. It appears to poke fun with insults and uses characters such as "The Torch" to do the dirty work.

Is the internet designed to be anonymous?  Many experts agree that the internet does not come with any First Amendment guarantees, especially for speech that is not otherwise protected. Also, it is an error to hide behind the defamation defense of "truth", truth is subjective, as we learned in the case of Skanks.

There have been many examples of individuals and businesses targeted over the internet, using anonymity as a tool and blogs as their weapon. Due to lack of proper internet security regulations, many simply give up. However, these victims lose face professionally and socially.

When businesses are targeted,one wonders: is the author a competitor, or a disgruntled employee? Until now, it has been impossible to discover.  Although it is not a given that a legal order to expose the targeter will be issued upon bringing suit, many courts have seen the necessity of changing the standards and have issued subpoenas upon good cause.

The latest trend in the legal system is that it is appropriate to be prepared to have your identity revealed. Making public comments over the internet that you cannot prove is a risk. Judith Donath, fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University says, "You can claim anonymity, but there is a range of things that a judge will use to determine whether you have used your anonymity responsibly."

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About CBurke

  • Jimmy

    “Despite numerous requests for comment, Dr. Cem Kinay has maintained silence. ”

    Unless you count this of course.

  • Dirty Games

    I think I may have mentioned this in a previous comment of mine and regarding a similar article..

    It is one thing to be anonymous and have good reason for it. For example to protect myself from other Internet users who stalk or harass me or maybe abuse my personal information.

    Yet, it is a completely different matter when a person uses anonymity to attack, defame or damage a person’s good name. If the comments are not truthful, causes damage and not in the public’s interest, then there is no good reason to publish such comments. One can then not help but suspect that the person who makes those damaging comments has some vindictive agenda in mind.

    If I were to make damaging statements in public regarding a person, then I open myself up to a possible libel or defamation suit. I do not see why it should be any different on the Internet? When a newspaper has a story, they always need to check their story for the facts, the truth and whether it is in the interest of the public who reads their paper. If they publish lies, incorrect statements or cause damage to a person, any person, they open themselves up to libel. It is also a good idea to report in a balanced manner – i.e. give both sides of a story with equal objectivity.

    There should be no free-for-all in everyday life, in the media or on the Internet when it comes to stories, rumors, accusations, assumptions, gossip or slander involving any person. For that there are laws to protect us. We all have a right to our good name and that good name is protected. We should respect others as we expect others to respect us.

    It seems that there is currently a shortcoming regarding the protection of an individual’s good name on the Internet. Yet, I have a feeling that soon the necessary legislation will be in place to protect us from hurtful individuals. In some countries this is already in effect.

    Just as we can expect to face the hand of justice if we slander or defame people in everyday public life, so those hiding behind anonymity on the Internet with the aim to damage others should expect punishment.

    Anonymous users with vengeful or hurtful intentions should be exposed and brought to book. Otherwise we will simply have anarchy and lawlessness.

  • Jimmy

    “Anonymous users with vengeful or hurtful intentions should be exposed and brought to book. Otherwise we will simply have anarchy and lawlessness.”

    Well said Mr. Games

  • May

    You can reach Chris Burke on his website tciwatch.com I just left him some information and tips.

  • Bob

    Anonymity online is easy, however it can be expensive. In the Skanks in NY case, I am amazed that the blogger used their normal email address. Surely she must have thought about going to the local internet cafe for anonymous access? If she was posting more life critical issues, she could have used Tor (which I would never trust for life and death issues) or mobile internet using a prepay sim or even accessing a public wi-fi hotspot remotely using a microwave dish kilometres away.