Cook County, IL - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked a judge in Illinois Wednesday to reject an attempt to identify an anonymous MySpace user who allegedly posted fake profiles of an Illinois official because the request would violate both the First Amendment and federal statute.
In May, Cicero Town President Larry Dominick asked a Cook County Circuit Court judge to order the disclosure of the identities of the author of two MySpace profiles that allegedly included defamatory comments and unnamed privacy violations. In its amicus brief, however, EFF argues that the petition violates the First Amendment right to remain anonymous until a litigant can demonstrate a viable legal claim.
"The First Amendment protects not only the right to speak but to speak anonymously," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "If Mr. Dominick's claims are legitimate, he may be able to obtain the identifying information that he seeks. Until he meets his burden, however -- including, among other things, attempting to notify the author of this court action and identifying the allegedly defamatory statements at issue -- the court should not grant his request. The First Amendment requires courts to guard against attempts to unmask critics who have simply made statements litigants don't like, especially when such requests are made by elected officials."
In addition, federal law also bars Mr. Dominick's request. Passed to protect the communications and records of users of services such as MySpace, the Stored Communications Act categorically prohibits government entities from obtaining identifying customer information through the ordinary civil discovery process.
"Federal law imposes stiff penalties on government entities that violate the privacy of online users without meeting strict requirements," said Zimmerman. "So far, Mr. Dominick -- bringing this action in his official capacity as town president -- hasn't met those standards."
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Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation