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Anonymity Online Not Absolute, Judge Rules

A new court ruling may challenge the ability to make anonymous comments online.

Last week, in a case involving a former police officer from the University of California at Davis and a blog called the Vanguard of Davis, a Sacramento judge ruled that anonymity on the Internet is not absolute, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Calvin Chang, the former police officer, filed a lawsuit against the university claiming that anonymous comments on the blog were a breach of a settlement he had reached with the university to end an earlier lawsuit.

After David Greenwald, who runs the blog, reported on the first lawsuit, commenters posted material that Mr. Chang believed might have come from university insiders trying to discredit him.

In an effort to learn the identity of the commenters, Mr. Chang sought to subpoena Google, the former host site of the blog. But Mr. Greenwald filed a motion to quash the subpoena on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.

In her ruling on Mr. Greenwald’s motion, Judge Shelleyanne Chang (who is not related to the officer) ruled mainly in the blogger’s favor—with one exception. While she did not require the identity of the anonymous commenters to be revealed, she did allow Mr. Chang to hire a third party to determine if they were “managing agents of the university.” If such a link is found, their identity can be revealed, she ruled.

On his blog, Mr. Greenwald said he felt the ruling was “partially, if not mostly successful.” Of the judge’s decision to allow third-party intervention, he said that “the logic here makes some sense.”

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