July 7, 2011 | By Marcia Hofmann

EFF Asks Indiana Court to Protect Anonymity of Indy Star Commenter

EFF and five news organizations recently filed an amicus brief (pdf) urging an Indiana appeals court to block a subpoena seeking to expose the identity of an anonymous speaker who posted a comment on the Indianapolis Star's website. This is a case of first impression in Indiana.

The subpoena stems from an underlying lawsuit filed by the former head of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, a non-profit whose mission is to teach children about business management and finance. Among other things, Jeffrey Miller alleges that Junior Achievement and two of its high-level officers defamed him by claiming that he misappropriated money from the organization.

After the Indianapolis Star published the article Junior Achievement Faces Questions, Audit on indystar.com, a reader anonymously posted a comment suggesting that the leaders of the organization might have mismanaged its finances. Miller fired off a subpoena to the Star seeking to unmask the poster. The newspaper is fighting the demand (pdf) to protect the poster's anonymity.

EFF regularly urges courts (as counsel or amicus) to apply heightened constitutional standards to protect anonymous online expression. While litigants with valid claims against anonymous speakers can normally satisfy those protections, the First Amendment bars attempts to out anonymous critics through the misuse of the subpoena process.

The coalition's amicus brief encourages the court to adopt strong protections for online anonymity. It also explains Indiana's long tradition of anonymous commentary on public affairs and highlights the state's strong constitutional protections for free expression.

The brief was written by Charles Tobin and Drew Shenkman of Holland & Knight LLP.

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