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[FYI] (Fwd) Free Speech Advocates Join Forces to Protect Anonymous S

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Date sent:      	Wed, 7 Feb 2001 00:11:20 -0500
Send reply to:  	Law & Policy of Computer Communications
From:           	Lauren Gelman <gelman@EFF.ORG>
Subject:        	Free Speech Advocates Join Forces to Protect Anonymous Speech in


The Electronic Frontier Foundation and The Liberty Project Request
Court Protection of Internet Authors' Identities

February 6- In a case involving both free speech and privacy rights
online, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and The Liberty
Project asked a California court yesterday to quash a subpoena issued
by Rural/Metro Corp. seeking to reveal the identities of two people
who posted comments allegedly critical of Rural/Metro on a Yahoo!
message board. The groups argue in their brief that Rural/Metro's
attempt to reveal the identities of the individuals, known
collectively as the Does, will intimidate critics and inappropriately
silence constitutionally protected anonymous speech.

Rural/Metro, a provider of contract fire and ambulance services
headquartered in Arizona, served the subpoena on Yahoo! Inc. seeking
the identity of four speakers who posted anonymous messages on the
Yahoo!'s message board devoted to discussion of Rural/Metro.  Without
offering a single message as evidence - or, indeed, a single fact to
support its allegations-- Rural/Metro alleged in its complaint that
Does posted "false, misleading and/or deceptive information" about
Rural/Metro, that Does may possibly sometime in the future reveal
unspecified trade secrets belonging to Rural/Metro, and that Does may
be current or former employees.

EFF and the Liberty Project have agreed to represent two of the Does
who contacted them about the subpoena pro bono.  In the brief filed
today, the groups argue that the Court should adopt the same test
currently used to determine whether to compel identification of
anonymous sources in libel litigation.  Under that test, the Court
would first have to determine that the plaintiff, in this case
Rural/Metro, has a valid claim, and then balance the harm to the
anonymous speakers against the plaintiff's need to discover the
identity of the speaker.

"Anonymous speech has been protected in this country since the writing
of the Federalist Papers.  If the courts do not step in to protect
this cherished right in cyberspace, we will lose it," said Lauren
Gelman, EFF's director of public policy.  EFF legal director Cindy
Cohn added, "Powerful entities are learning that they can use the
courts to silence their critics.  When individuals choose to
participate in a public debate anonymously, they should not have to
worry that their identities will be divulged to anyone who doesn't
like what they have to say."

According to Nicole Berner, counsel for the Liberty Project, "many
people converse on the Internet anonymously unaware that they have
become the subject of a subpoena seeking their identity before it is
too late to quash the subpoena.  Our hope is that the Court in this
case will set a standard according to which Internet service providers
and others will be able to determine when it is and isn't appropriate
to disclose information that may lead to the identity of an anonymous

The Electronic Frontier Foundation ( http://www.eff.org ) is the
leading civil liberties organization working to protect rights in the
digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF actively encourages and challenges
industry and government to support free expression, privacy, and
openness in the information society. EFF is a member-supported
organization and maintains one of the most-linked-to Web sites in the
world. EFF sees its action in this case as part of its larger mission
to protect speech online and recently filed two other briefs on behalf
of anonymous speakers. Information about those cases can be found on
the EFF website.

The Liberty Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the
preservation of civil liberties. Heeding Thomas Jefferson's warning
that "the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and
government to gain ground," the Liberty Project was founded to promote
individual liberty against encroachment by all levels of government. 
The organization espouses vigilance over regulation of all kinds, as
well as restriction of individual liberties, especially the guarantee
of free speech upon which all other liberties depend.  In addition to
its educational work, the Liberty Project offers legal assistance to
those whose civil liberties are jeopardized.

Plaintiff Rural/Metro Corp. is represented by Hartford Brown of the
law firm Seyfarth Shaw, located in San Francisco, CA, (415) 397 2823.


Lauren Gelman, Electronic Frontier Foundation: (202)487-0420
Nicole Berner or Julie Carpenter at Jenner & Block in Washington D.C.
for the Liberty Project: (202) 639-2000

The brief can be found at the EFF website at:


 Lauren Gelman                   Phone: 202/487-0420
 Director of Public Policy             email: gelman@eff.org
 Electronic Frontier Foundation

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