Once Again, EEF Works To Protects Anonymity Online

Larry Dominick, the president of the town of Cicero, Ill., has apparently joined the ranks of thin-skinned officials distressed by online remarks about him.

Dominick several weeks ago asked a court to order MySpace to divulge the identity of a member or members who allegedly created "imposter" profiles of him on the site. He doesn't reveal any information about the content of these profiles except to allege they falsely state that they were created by him and "include defamatory matter" concerning him.

This week, the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation got involved. The group filed a motion asking the court in Illinois to deny Dominick's request that MySpace tell him who created the profiles.

The EFF argues that federal law prohibits town officials from obtaining information from companies like MySpace through routine civil discovery procedures.

More importantly, the EFF also argues that people have a First Amendment right to criticize government officials anonymously. "Litigants may not use the discovery power to uncover the identities of people who have simply made statements the litigants dislike," the EFF states in its brief.

Of course, if he has really been libeled, Dominick has the right to sue. But at this point, it's hard to know whether he was defamed, because the fake profiles have been taken down and he hasn't come forward with any details about what they said.

"Petitioner has neither alleged nor submitted any evidence in his control (such as an affidavit) to indicate that the statements in question are false," the EFF argues. "He has furthermore failed to allege that any such false statements were made with actual malice as required of public figures alleging defamation."

This case isn't the first time the EFF has gone to court to argue that public officials are going beyond the law in trying to unmask Web speakers. Late last year, the organization successfully backed a blogger in New Jersey when town officials there were trying to discover his or her identity.

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