EFF Urges Court to Block Dragnet Subpoenas Targeting Online Commenters
New York - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) this week served a motion to quash dragnet subpoenas that put privacy and anonymity at risk for the operators of dozens of Internet blogs and potentially hundreds of commenters.
The subpoenas stem from a state lawsuit filed by New York residents Miriam and Michael Hersh alleging a conspiracy to interfere with their business interests. Issued to Google and Yahoo, the subpoenas demand the identities of users of ten email accounts, operators of 30 blogs and a website that had featured discussions of the plaintiffs among other matters, and the identities of everyone who had ever commented on those sites.
"The First Amendment protects individuals' right to speak anonymously and forces litigants to justify any attempts to unmask anonymous critics," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Litigants cannot forcibly identify entire communities of online speakers -- which include many speakers who no one would claim did anything wrong -- simply because the litigants are curious."
In the motion served on Monday, EFF urged the Supreme Court for Kings County, New York, to quash the subpoenas for failing to satisfy the requirements imposed by the First Amendment, as well as the requirements imposed by New York state law and the federal Stored Communications Act.
"Overbroad subpoenas targeting anonymous speakers without cause naturally creates a chilling effect that may discourage others from exercising their constitutional rights to participate in conversations that take place online," said Zimmerman. "We are asking the court to enforce these reasonable safeguards so that the rights of innocent speakers do not become collateral damage in a dispute between others."
Ron Lazebnik and the Samuelson-Glushko Intellectual Property & Information Law Clinic at Fordham University School of Law assisted EFF in the serving of this motion.
For the full motion to quash:
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation