protects the identity of an anonymous blogger. The appeals court ruled in In Re: Does 1-10 that an Internet provider does not have to reveal the blogger’s identity. As noted in the 6th Court’s opinion, written by Justice Jack Carter, Essent PRMC, the company that owns Paris Regional Medical Center, sued the blogger and nine of his anonymous commentators in June, alleging in its original petition that John Doe 1 had set up a blog that is defamatory, containing “scurrilous” comments about the hospital and its staff. Essent also filed an ex parte request for disclosure of information from a nonparty to the suit, SuddenLink Communications, Doe 1’s Internet provider. The trial court, which is not identified in the 6th Court’s opinion, ordered SuddenLink to disclose Doe 1’s name and address, basing its order on Essent’s argument on a provision in the Cable Communications Policy Act, 47 U.S.C. §551(c). Doe 1 filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the 6th Court, which found that “the federal statute is not a procedural vehicle for obtaining such a court order.” The 6th Court also held that the operator of the blog site has a First Amendment right to anonymity in the defamation suit, unless Essent provides proof that the blog postings caused it financial harm. Carter wrote for the 6th Court that “an author’s decision to remain anonymous . . . is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.” Chief Justice Josh Morriss III and Justice Bailey C. Moseley joined in the decision.The literally thousands of anonymous comments from employees at the Texas Youth Commission on Grits this year demonstrated to me once and for all why preserving anonymity is important. While it's a shame so many people feel too intimidated to use their real name when engaging in public debate, the fact that they do shows why anonymity is needed: It allows debates over topics where participants would otherwise refuse to engage for fear of reprisal.
Long live the anonymous blog commenter, and long live anonymous blogs!