Burd v. Cole

On June 29 2006 EFF filed to block an Oklahoma school superintendent's attempt to unmask the identities of a local website's operator and all registered users. On July 17 2006 three days before a court hearing on EFF's motion to quash Plaintiff dismissed his case.

The superintendent has sued Internet users who criticized him on the website's message board. In its motion to quash EFF argues that the plaintiff's overbroad subpoena seeking to identify the site's operator and users violates First Amendment protections for anonymous speech and association.

"Anonymity is critical to public discourse and fundamental to a free society allowing speakers to offer diverse views without fear of undue reprisal " said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "There is now clear judicial consensus that subpoenas to identify anonymous speakers must be carefully scrutinized."

In recent months EFF lawyers have represented or provided amicus support in anonymity cases in California Colorado and Delaware. In the latter case Doe v. Cahill EFF helped successfully defend a Delaware blogger who had criticized a member of the town council. The case resulted in the first state supreme court decision confirming the First Amendment right to remain anonymous until a litigant can demonstrate a legitimate claim.

"Litigants must not be permitted to abuse the judicial process to identity anonymous individuals who have simply created a forum for critical comments or made statements a plaintiff dislikes " said EFF Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Speech critical of public officials—made anonymously or not—enjoys an extremely high level of legal protection."

Outcome: Case dismissed and anonymity of speaker protected.

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