June 23, 2009

New Hampshire Court Should Not Force Internet Site to Identify Anonymous Critic  

Federal Law Immunizes Web Bulletin Boards From Comments Made by Others

WASHINGTON, D.C. - An Internet forum that follows the "imploding" banking and housing markets should not be required to identify a person who posted critical comments about a Plaistow, N.H., mortgage company, Public Citizen said in a brief filed today in the case.

Federal law immunizes the operators of bulletin boards and blogs from being sued for information posted by others, Public Citizen said in an amicus brief filed with the New Hampshire Supreme Court. In this case, the lower court erred by telling the Web site operator, Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, that it had to provide Mortgage Specialists Inc. the identity of the anonymous critic, as well as remove two comments he or she left on the site’s forum.

"The right to engage in anonymous speech is fundamental to a free society," said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who filed the brief, with local counsel Jon Meyer of Manchester, N.H. "Courts have recognized that the right to remain anonymous should not be taken away without compelling reasons."

Not only did the lower court ignore federal law, it failed to recognize the First Amendment rights of the anonymous critic, the brief said. The lower court should not have granted Mortgage Specialists’ subpoena without first making the company attempt to notify the anonymous critic about the pending court action.

There is also strong precedent from other courts in other states that the court should require Mortgage Specialists to show a valid reason - such as evidence of falsity - before it takes away someone’s right to speak anonymously, the brief said.

READ the motion.

LEARN MORE about Public Citizen’s work defending Internet free speech.

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