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Another paper uses state shield law to protect online commenters

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
An Illinois newspaper is using the state shield law to fight a subpoena for the identities of some readers who…

An Illinois newspaper is using the state shield law to fight a subpoena for the identities of some readers who commented anonymously on the paper’s Web site.

According to a Belleville News-Democrat report, the state attorney general wants the information for a grand jury hearing on a murder investigation.

The subpoena specifically asks for the names, addresses, and Internet Protocol addresses for readers who posted comments on the Alton Telegraph’s Web site using five different profile names.

The Telegraph filed a motion several weeks ago arguing that the Illinois shield law protects the newspaper from having to reveal any confidential information, including the identities of people who comment on their site anonymously. That motion is pending.

“Indeed, in the digital age a newspaper or reporter receiving information in this fashion is no different from anonymous tips provided to newspaper reporters telephonically or in written form,” the Telegraph argued in the court motion.

The argument that state shield laws protect anonymous commenters has been successful in several cases recently. Judges in both Montana and Oregon have held that their state shield laws protected newspapers from having to give up the identities of those who comment anonymously on their sites.

Don Craven, attorney for the Illinois Press Association, told the Belleville News-Democrat that he agreed with the paper’s argument.

“The newspaper is entitled under the Reporters’ Privilege Statute to maintain the confidentiality of sources of information,” he said. “Even though they may disclose the information itself in an article, they are nonetheless entitled to maintain the confidentiality of that source.”