In the United States, there has been considerable debate over anonymous online postings. Last week, the New York Times reported that news sites are reconsidering whether to allow readers to comment anonymously. National Public Radio has reported on a judge suing an Ohio newspaper, claiming it violated her privacy when it revealed her e-mail address was linked to comments at the paper’s online site. In Illinois, a woman is demanding a newspaper reveal the identity of a poster who she accuses of making defamatory statements about her teenage son. In February, security experts Bruce Schneier and Marcus Ranum had a point-counterpoint debate at Information Security concerning anonymity on the Internet.
Now, the Ottawa Citizen reports on the issue of anonymous online postings in Canada:
In a case with implications for online privacy and free expression, a panel of Ottawa judges is considering whether websites named in libel actions should be required to identify people who post anonymous defamatory comments.
Their decision could chill whistleblowers and others who use pseudonyms to post controversial comments, say civil libertarians.
And, they maintain, if the judges support unmasking anonymous posters, that could erode their privacy by allowing others to piece together vast amounts of personal information.
The case arises from a 2007 defamation suit filed by Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman, who is reviled by the far right for his relentlessly successful efforts to use human rights law to shut down hatred on the Internet. […]
The appeal drew interventions in support from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the University of Ottawa’s Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).
Both argue the courts should order disclosure only after the party seeking it has demonstrated a prima facie (or self-evident) case, and when the public interest favouring disclosure outweighs concern for freedom of expression and privacy. […]
Unmasking anonymous posters could put people’s security at risk, said [Nathalie Des Rosiers, the CCLA’s general counsel], or make it easier for employers to fire employees they consider “troublemakers.”