Nov. 17, 2011
Court Rules That Rabbi Cannot Unmask Anonymous Bloggers in Sexual Abuse Defamation Suit
Statement of Paul Alan Levy, Attorney, Public Citizen
An Orthodox rabbi ousted from his congregation because of allegations of sexual abuse posted anonymously online has not met the test for unmasking his critics, the Supreme Court of New York for Rockland County ruled this week.
Justice Victor J. Alfieri, Jr. was correct in deciding that revealing the identity of several bloggers who criticized Rabbi Mordechai Tendler was not warranted and that disclosing their identities would “open the floodgates and set a precedent” that would allow anonymous Internet speakers to be identified for spurious reasons.
Too often, anonymous critics are bullied with lawsuits and cease and desist threats as their subjects try to unmask them. But the First Amendment protects the critics and upholds their right to share their thoughts anonymously.
Most cases in which subpoenas are used to identify anonymous online critics arise when powerful figures try to sue the critics (as Tendler originally sought to do to these bloggers). This decision stands as an important bulwark against the misuse of subpoenas based on the premise that the speakers are needed as witnesses rather than as defendants.
To learn more about this case, visit: https://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=3309and https://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=223.
Justice Alfieri’s ruling can be found at https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/tendler-v-doe-order.pdf.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.