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Corporate Critic Fights to Keep Internet Anonymity

May 3, 2007

Corporate Critic Fights to Keep Internet Anonymity

Chemical Company on Quest to Identify Online Speaker

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) have asked a California appeals court to scrutinize a chemical company's attempt to strip the anonymity from a participant in an online message board.

The participant posted information that H.B. Fuller Co. claims could only have been obtained through a company "town hall meeting," in violation of an employee confidentiality agreement. However, the poster has submitted a declaration to the court swearing that he or she is not an employee and that the information posted on the message board could have been gleaned from any follower of Fuller's business practices.

A lower court ruled the message board poster should be identified to Fuller. In an amicus brief filed Wednesday, however, EFF and CFAC argue that the lower court undervalued the right to anonymity and set a dangerously low threshold for stripping Internet users of its protection.

"Liberal protection for the right to engage in anonymous communication – to speak, read, listen, and associate anonymously – is fundamental to a free society," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "That is why courts must strike the appropriate balance between the competing interests of subpoenaing parties and the anonymous speakers they seek to unmask, recognizing that once an online user's anonymity and privacy have been eviscerated, they cannot be repaired."

EFF and CFAC urged the appeals court to adopt a test for this case and others that would protect the rights of Internet critics. That test should include notice to the anonymous speaker, an assessment of the merits of the legal claims and other alternatives for finding the source of harm, and careful consideration of the balance of harms.

For the full amicus brief in Fuller v. Doe:
http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/fuller_v_doe/fuller_v_doe_amicus.pdf

For more on anonymity on the Internet:
http://www.eff.org/Privacy/Anonymity

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

Matt Zimmerman
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
mattz@eff.org

About EFF:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation 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 and privacy online. EFF is a member-supported organization and maintains one of the most linked-to websites in the world at http://www.eff.org/

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