May 6, 2010
New Hampshire Supreme Court Upholds Right to Criticize Anonymously on the Internet
Public Citizen Argued that Lower Court Ignored the First Amendment
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A lower court ignored the First Amendment when it told the operator of an Internet forum to identify a person who posted anonymous criticism of a N.H. mortgage company, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire said today in a ruling that adopted arguments made by Public Citizen.
In a friend of the court brief filed last year, Public Citizen said that the lower court failed to recognize the free speech rights of the website operator, Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, which runs the forum that follows the “imploding” banking and housing markets.
Public Citizen argued that the lower court should not have granted Mortgage Specialists’ subpoena without first attempting to notify the anonymous critic. It also argued that the court should require Mortgage Specialists, which is based in Plaistow, N.H, to show a valid reason – such as evidence of falsity – before taking away someone’s right to speak anonymously.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire agreed with Public Citizen’s arguments, reversing the lower court ruling.
The court also held that the lower court’s order prohibiting the website operator, Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, from publishing the anonymous critic’s postings and Mortgage Specialist’s loan figures was a prohibited prior restraint on speech.
“The right of citizens to engage in anonymous speech is a cornerstone of our democracy,” said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who filed the brief, along with local counsel Jon Meyer of Manchester, N.H. “The Supreme Court of New Hampshire has rightly recognized that the right to remain anonymous should not be taken away without compelling reasons.”
READ the ruling and brief.