Blogger may not have to reveal identities of anonymous commenters

Cristina Abello | Newsgathering | Quicklink | September 14, 2009

A California trial court judge last week declined to order a blogger to reveal the identities of anonymous commenters that were discussing an employment discrimination lawsuit, but left open the possibility of an exception, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang ruled in favor of blogger David Greenwald, who asserted his First Amendment rights against revealing the information and filed a motion to quash the subpoena. Greenwald's blog, The People’s Vanguard of Davis, reports on current topics relating to the City of Davis and surrounding Yolo County.

The case against Greenwald is a departure from a more typical scenario, in which a plaintiff attempts to obtain the identity of a poster in order to sue that person for defamation.  In this case it was Google that was subpoenaed, because it was hosting the blog at the time of the comments.

The commenters' identities were sought by the attorney representing former University of California, Davis police officer Calvin Chang, who was involved in an employment dispute because if the posters were involved in the employment discrimination case, the online discussion would potentially be in breach of a related settlement agreement.

“Plaintiff seeks the personal, identifying information of third parties that do not have any connection to Plaintiff’s suit against the Regents other than to have commented on a blog entry reporting information about the case,” Greenwald’s motion stated. “Plaintiff’s subpoena seems to be nothing more than an attempt to intimidate those who have expressed a negative opinion about himself or his suit against the Regents.”

Judge Chang, who is of no relation to the plaintiff, ruled that the posters' identities could only potentially be revealed if the plaintiff hired an independent third party who could use an Internet trace to establish relevant evidence in the case.